In the wake of the deaths of chef Anthony Bourdain and fashion designer Kate Spade early this summer, suicide awareness has once again emerged to the forefront as a prominent topic of conversation. Suicide is defined as death caused by self-directed injurious behavior with intent to die as a result of the behavior. Within the umbrella of suicide lies suicide attempts and suicidal ideation (the thinking of or planning of suicide), factors often culminating in the act itself.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. About 44,965 Americans die by suicide annually. However, for every suicide, at least 25 attempts occur.
Depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders and personality disorders, among others, can all elicit suicidal thoughts.
People often consider discussing suicide as taboo; therefore, the topic remains shrouded in secrecy. Some people experience such hopelessness and shame that they do not disclose their intent to commit suicide to others. Others who may have had bad experiences revealing their thoughts in the past may also refrain from confiding in someone. Some feel so intent on dying that they do not want their thoughts to be interrupted. Further, many experiencing suicidal thoughts do not share them with others in fear that they will be judged or labeled crazy, heavily due to the stigma surrounding suicide, which deters many from receiving help they desperately need. Although it is almost impossible to put oneself completely into another’s shoes and understand what exactly that person is going through, it is possible to show support. While people often feel uncomfortable talking about suicide, it is important to show others that they are not alone.
School-based interventions with teachers, students and parents all involved in the discussion can assist in allowing people to further understand the topic of suicide and the sense of vulnerability that comes with it (https://afsp.org/talking-suicide-schools/). Everyone should encourage a free discussion of the matter, as open communication could ultimately save a life.
Small groups where students have a safe area to discuss mental health issues, family problems and everyday challenges and emotions serves as especially comforting, as a student is more inclined to confide in another student than in an adult.
“Helping establish relationships between students and faculty can also serve as a preventative measure with regard to suicidal ideation, violence, bullying, etc. Preventative measures should include promoting help-seeking, emotional well-being, and networks of social support and ‘connectedness’ among students, faculty and parents,” said Thea Gallagher, a clinical psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety and a member of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).
“After-school clubs and relationship-building activities are also ways to connect students to each other and provide alternatives to negative behaviors and isolation,” Gallagher said.
Pushing the negative connotation related to suicide out of the grand scheme of societal relations would greatly help mend the isolation and confusion that those who have experienced suicidal thoughts or tried to take their own lives feel.