Suicide Prevention is More than Just a Hotline

Wednesday, September 26, 2018 | 0 Comment(s)

(Trigger warning: This post deals almost exclusively with the topic of suicide. Knowledge is power.
If you are in crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to anyone. All calls are confidential. )

Suicide is once again in the news. Between Robin Williams, Chris Cornell, and Kate Spade (and since I started writing this piece Anthony Bourdain) -- the public is reminded that no one can buy out of depression. Fame doesn't protect people from loneliness or helplessness. A number of weeks ago Boston "shock-jock" sport radio host Kirk Minihane shared, publicly, his recent brush with suicidal ideation, and the help which he luckily received. It was a burst of raw humanity from a man who often spends his hours on the radio waves spewing sewage, which aims to tear others' humanity away. Nobody is all one thing.

The greater truth is that suicide is a major problem in the USA. For Americans aged 10-34, suicide is the second leading cause of death after unintentional injury. For those 35-54, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death after unintentional injury, cancer, and heart disease. In 2016, there were more than twice the number of suicides (44,965) than there were homicides (19,362, NIMH). More than twice.

Guns are also a part of the problem. While the national gun debate rages on, guns are used for more than half of all suicides. Guns are used more than all other tools (hanging, cutting, jumping, pills, etc) combined. What's important to realize is that guns aren't used in more than half of suicide attempts. But suicide attempts that involve guns lead to the most successful attempts (85%). Taking pills, which is the most oft attempted form of suicide, only has a 3% success rate (Harvard School of Public Health). So, the real difference is, when a person shoots themselves, not only is there no second chance, there is no time to consider one's actions or reconsider. And this is critically important because suicidal thoughts and feelings are almost often temporary. Most depressed individuals aren't constantly suicidal, but rather they have bouts where they become suicidal, until that feeling is calmed or otherwise relieved. As the Harvard School of Public Health puts it, "Guns are an irreversible solution to what is often a passing crisis."

Society is part of the problem. We demonized those with the least, while disconnecting ourselves from the reality that our relative wealth is built directly on the backs of the have nots. We act superior while ignoring the many many food insecure people in this first-world nation of the USA, who spend the vast majority of their mental resources figuring out how to juggle their debt, while trying to stay fed, clothed, and housed. To think that this daily struggle wouldn't affect a person's well-being is obtuse. Of course, these same people striving to meet their basic living needs can't afford the medical care they need, so how are they supposed to get mental health care. How can a person working every moment of their day view therapy as anything but an idea they've seen on TV or in a movie. We've created a society that grinds those with the least inherited wealth down to the bone, then they are dismissed as quitters if they choose to stop their suffering.

We are part of the problem. We, as a public, as a set of communities, as empathetic human beings, have turned suicide prevention into a hotline. If you are feeling like hurting yourself, we say, "Call the hotline." We miss the reason the hotline is there in the first place. Many depressed people feel they have no one to turn to. More than that, they feel their problems are a burden on anyone who might love them. They begin to see their presence as an intrusion on other's lives. The hotline is there because so many people feel that there is no one out there that will love them and hold them and listen to them and tell them that, no matter what, they will be there.
We are a culture that has normalized cruelty. Our various text device and social media machines allow us to sever the connection between our compassionate selves and our actions, by literally physically removing ourselves from the equation. If you never see a ghosted person cry, does their pain even exist; It's our modern day tree falling in the forrest.

We need to be the hotline for our friends and our communities. Instead of turning people away because they are suffering, we need to recognize that pain -- may it be stress, drug use, debt, shame -- and react with compassion. We need to change our "Call the Hotline" culture into a "Call me anytime" community.

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