Wednesday, September 10, 2014

World Suicide Prevention Day 2014

Every day, every 40 seconds, someone dies by suicide. Take a moment and let that sink in, and then think about this - for every one successful suicide attempt, statistics have shown there are at least 20 other unsuccessful suicide attempts, meaning that every 40 seconds, 21 people - people who are just the same as you and me - attempt (and succeed) at taking their own lives.

Read it again.

Every day, every 40 seconds, someone dies by suicide. Take a moment and let that sink in, and then think about this - for every one successful suicide attempt, statistics have shown there are at least 20 other unsuccessful suicide attempts, meaning that every 40 seconds, 21 people - people who are just the same as you and me - attempt (and succeed) at taking their own lives.

40 seconds. That's how long it just took you to read the first paragraph twice. In that time, someone, somewhere died by suicide and 20 others attempted it.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-29-year-olds. The SECOND LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH of adolescents and young adults whose lives are filled with so much potential, whose lives have not even really begun.

Suicide is preventable. 

The World Health Organization has just recently released a report that covers in-depth the risk factors for suicide and summarizes it with this: "Social, psychological, cultural and other factors can interact to lead a person to suicidal behaviour, but the stigma attached to mental disorders and suicide means that many people feel unable to seek help (2014)."

I am not (yet) qualified enough to speak about the factors leading to suicidal behavior and thoughts. I can only speak from my own experience. And my own experience includes stigma.

The stigma is real, my friends.

Over the past years, as I've struggled with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, self-harm, and various other things, there have been a few points where I wanted nothing more than to not be alive. I was done - done going to therapy, done talking about it, done fighting, done trying. I wanted to not exist. I wanted to go to sleep and not wake up.

For the longest time, I was afraid to say anything about my suicidal thoughts to anyone because I was afraid of what they would think, of what they would do. I was afraid I would be seen as a crazy person. I was afraid I would be restrained in a hospital bed. I was afraid I would be medicated to the point of not knowing who I was. I was afraid I would be institutionalized and would never come out. I was afraid that once I came out as not okay, I would never again be treated as okay.

We do this thing in our society where we skirt around anything major. We don't give the real answers when someone asks how we are because we think they don't care or they'll judge us. We don't talk about the hard stuff. We don't talk about suicide. 

Except we do, when a celebrity dies of it. A few months ago, Robin Williams committed suicide and then for a week or two, we talked about it. Briefly. The conversations, though, seem to have focused more on his depression than on his suicide, which although is a start, it isn't okay.

It isn't okay because although mental illnesses like depression have a correlation to suicidality, they are not always the cause. Many people living with mental illnesses are not affected by suicidal behaviors. Not everyone who dies by suicide has a mental illness. It is myths like these that contribute to stigma.

September is Suicide Prevention Month. It is a time when organizations and people attempt to bring the conversation to how we can work together to prevent suicide because, according to the World Health Organization, "Despite the evidence that many deaths are preventable, suicide is too often a low priority for governments and policy-makers (2014)."

In my experience, the best prevention is being there to ask the hard questions, to talk about the tough stuff, to care about the messy, broken parts when a friend is struggling. As Will Hall writes:

"When we begin to listen we also discover something very surprising. Suicidal feelings are not the same as giving up on life. Suicidal feelings often express a powerful and overwhelming need for a different life. Suicidal feelings can mean, in a desperate and unyielding way, a demand for something new. Listen to someone who is suicidal and you often hear a need for change so important, so indispensable, that they would rather die than go on living without the change. And when the person feels powerless to make that change happen, they become suicidal.

"Help comes when the person identifies the change they want and starts to believe it can actually happen. Whether it is overcoming an impossible family situation, making a career or study change, standing up to an oppressor, gaining relief from chronic physical pain, igniting creative inspiration, feeling less alone, or beginning to value their self worth, at the root of suicidal feelings is often powerlessness to change your life – not giving up on life itself."

By allowing someone to tell their story, you give them what they desperately need - power. By not keeping a story untold, the author of it gains a bit of power and control over the situation. Things seem to get more hopeful because there is one more character in that story. It's not a one act play anymore. At least that's how it was for me.

I had people in my life to tell me I mattered. To tell me I was important. To tell me no one else could play my part.

And tonight, I'm telling you.

You matter.
You are important.
No one else can play your part. 


"Welcome to Midnight. That's what we say when the ball drops and a new year begins. i like that moment because beyond the fireworks and resolutions, beyond the kisses and celebration, is the quiet hope that something can be new. That it's possible to leave the past behind and start again. There's nothing extra special on television tonight, no clapping crowd in Times Square, no parade scheduled for the morning. But this midnight means World Suicide Prevention Day, and we would like to think this day can be significant. Not because the world needs another holiday, and not because we need a stage to stand on. We believe in World Suicide Prevention Day for the same reasons we love New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. Because perhaps it's possible to change. Perhaps it's possible to start again. Perhaps it's possible for things to be new. We know that change takes more than a moment, and we aren't saying it will be easy, but we're saying that it's worth it. This life. This night. Your story. Your pain. Your hope. It matters. All of it matters. You're loved. You matter to this world and you matter to the people who love you. So stay. Please stay. No one else can play your part." 
-Jaime Tworkowski, founder of TWLOHA




Notes:
The conversation does not end at midnight. Organizations like To Write Love On Her ArmsActive Minds, and American Foundation for Suicide Prevention are working to change the conversation. 

If you are struggling with suicide, please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or visit http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.

World Health Organization. 2014. Preventing Suicide: A Global Imperative. http://www.who.int/mental_health/suicide-prevention/world_report_2014/en/

Hall, Will. 2013. Living with Suicidal Feelings. http://beyondmeds.com/2013/04/24/living-with-suicidal-feelings/

Tworkowski, Jamie. 2014. Welcome to Midnight. Welcome to World Suicide Prevention Day. http://twloha.com/blog/welcome-world-suicide-prevention-day