Recently, I was asked to participate in a radio panel discussion around the topic of suicide, including the way it’s discussed in society and addressed by the media. A recording of my segment is now available – listen here. I first want to thank the host and producers of “The Afternoon Shift” on WBEZ 91.5 Chicago, for taking an interest in the topic of suicide. It is truly refreshing to see the media addressing a topic that has been silenced for so long. It is my hope that we will continue to talk about suicide in order to fight the stigma surrounding the topic for survivors.
I was intrigued when asked about the role media might play in potentially contributing to the suicide rate. Specifically, does talking about suicide increase someone’s likelihood to attempt or complete it? As a clinician and a survivor my response is, “NO!” We need to talk about suicide. It needs to be addressed in the media, primarily to elevate the discussion so that both those at risk and those who have lost a loved one can get better support. As a survivor, wouldn’t it be nice to openly talk about the death of your loved one without fear of judgment because of the unfortunate stigma? And, on the opposite end, I can’t help but wonder how different my father might have felt if he was able to verbalize his thoughts without fear of being judged or characterized as “crazy” or “weak.” As a society, we continue to silence suicide and mental illness; I want to give it a voice. Why? Well, clearly silence isn’t working as research shows that suicide has become the leading cause of death in the developed world. In fact, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, self-harm is now the leading cause of death for people 15 to 49, surpassing all cancers and heart disease. Additionally, in 2010, self-harm took more lives than murder, war and natural disasters combined. Even more worrisome, the rates continue to increase year after year. If there is anything to take from all of the research out there, it’s that what we are doing right now isn’t working. Suicide is not an easy topic to discuss and can be very uncomfortable for a survivor. If your experience is anything like mine, I always felt that I needed to defend my father’s character after I explained that he took his life. Top that off with the weight of judgment, and it was almost too much to take. No wonder survivors often tell a different story in the aftermath of their loved one’s death. So where do we go from here? How can we begin to feel more comfortable talking about suicide?
For one, I hope this blog gives you a place to share your story – whether you want to comment on a post that might match how you are feeling, or you want to tell others your story, I hope you find a safe place on this page. I also would love to hear how you have dealt with the stigma of suicide. What do you all think we can do to help end the stigma surrounding suicide and give a voice to a topic that has been silenced for so long so that ultimately, all of us can get the support we need?