To Anderson Cooper, From a Fellow Survivor of Suicide Loss
Dear Anderson Cooper,
You don’t know me, and I don’t know you. But we do share something in common. We are both survivors of suicide loss. In 1988 you lost your brother Carter to suicide, and 17 months ago, on April 20, 2015, I lost my father.
In just a few days, you will join Martha Raddatz at Washington University in St. Louis to moderate the second presidential debate of 2016. This is a chance to speak to some of the biggest challenges our country is facing and open up a dialogue with each candidate as to how they might solve those issues — or at the very least, tackle them in such a way as to make a meaningful difference. And so, as a fellow survivor of suicide loss, I am asking you to raise the issue of suicide.
Every day, it is estimated that we lose 117 people to suicide — people like your brother and my father. And every 12.3 minutes, another family in this nation is left to navigate the painful aftermath your family and mine have faced. You probably understand better than most in the media, every person who dies by suicide is more than a statistic; they are parents, children, siblings, spouses, friends and neighbors.
The most recent federal data analysis tell us suicide rates in the United States have surged to a 30-year high. The same research showed an alarming increase in suicide among girls 10 to 14, whose suicide rate, while still very low, had tripled. The suicide rate for middle-aged women, ages 45 to 64, rose by 63 percent over the course of the study, while it increased by 43 percent for men in that age range, the sharpest increase for males of any age. And men over the age of 75 have the highest suicide rate of any age group.
Anderson, these are statistics, numbers, and they are staggering to say the least. But they are so much more than that. These are the casualties of a war that is being fought in the dark. These are deaths so often cloaked in shame, stigma and silence that those of us left to grieve a suicide loss often find ourselves feeling alone and isolated in the experience. But you can help to change that.
Don’t you think it is time we shine a national spotlight on the realities of suicide loss, Anderson? Don’t you think it is time that any conversation about our nation’s health care includes issues of mental health and suicide prevention? Isn’t it time we normalize those conversations as part of our national dialogue? And I might add, isn’t it time to change the discourse in the media and on the campaign trail when it comes to the language we use, being mindful not to belittle and further stigmatize those living with mental illness?
It’s been 17 months since I lost my father to suicide. And not a day has gone by when I have not tried to make some meaning come from his death. I have shared my story openly in the hopes that doing so can help spare another family the pain mine has endured, a pain you are intimately acquainted with.
You told People magazine in a March 2016 interview that your brother’s suicide had a definite impact on your career:
“I started going overseas and going to places where life and death was very real and where people were suffering tremendous losses. Hearing their stories and hearing people talk about it sort of helped me to get to a place where I could talk about it, I think.”
This Sunday night, with millions of people watching, you have the chance to further the conversation about suicide in this country. The struggle of those who die by suicide is very real, and families like yours and mine are living with tremendous loss. You’ve learned to talk about it, and so have I. So let’s use what we have endured to make a difference. Let’s talk about it. Let’s ask our nation’s potential leadership to talk about it. The spotlight is yours to shine. As a fellow survivor, I hope you will use it.
Image via Wikimedia Commons / Tulane Public Relations
A version of this post originally appeared on Reflecting Out Loud.