5 Takeaways From Anderson Cooper's Town Hall About Suicide
On Sunday night, CNN aired a town hall hosted by Anderson Cooper called, “Finding Hope: Battling America’s Suicide Crisis.” Following the suicides of designer Kate Spade and chef and writer Anthony Bourdain — along with a new CDC report confirming the suicide rate has gone up by 25 percent since 1999 — Cooper led a conversation about suicide loss, suicide warning signs and hope.
Everyone in the audience and on stage, including Cooper himself, had been affected by suicide. Cooper lost his brother, Carter, to suicide almost 30 years ago.
Guests included actor and advocate Glenn Close; Chester Bennington’s wife Talinda Bennington; Robin Williams’ son Zak Williams; conservative policy advisor Karl Rove; Live Though This founder Dese’Rae L. Stage; and Dr. Christine Moutier, chief medical officer for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
In case you weren’t able to watch the special, here are five takeaways that stuck out to us:
1. Before a suicide attempt, there are warning signs — they just aren’t always obvious.
The answer to, “What causes suicide?” is a complicated one. As Dr. Moutier said to Cooper, “There are always multiple risk factors that converge at a moment in time in a person’s life to create that accumulation of acute risk.” She cited that the opioid addiction epidemic, a changing economy and a culture that values self-sufficiency could affect the overall suicide rate.
There are warning signs we know people exhibit before attempting suicide, but that doesn’t mean they’re always obvious or easy to spot. Talinda Bennington said that there were “absolutely warning signs” before her husband’s death, but she’s only aware of them now after educating herself about suicide.
But even for people who do know what to look for, knowing a list of warning signs isn’t always enough. Dr. Moutier said, in real life, the way they show themselves is more hidden.
“Understand that the loved ones in your life are not going to hand that to you on a platter,” she said. “They’re going to be indicating it in really subtle ways.”
2. Sometimes, someone’s mood can lift right before they attempt suicide.
Both Bennington and Karl Rove said their loved one’s mood seemed to actually get better right before their loved one died by suicide.
“He was at his best before he passed,” Bennington said, referring to her husband. “We were on a family vacation… He’s had past attempts, but this wasn’t the time any of us expected this to happen.”
Just because someone’s mood suddenly lifts during a time they seemed to be struggling, doesn’t mean the person is no longer at risk for suicide. According to the Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Center of British Columbia:
Sometimes, a suicidal person might feel relief that they have finally come to a decision – the emotional conflict over living or dying has been resolved. The best way to determine if a person’s improved mood is related to decreased or increased risk of suicide is to have a direct and open discussion about suicide.
3. When it comes to figuring out who’s at risk for suicide, actions can be more powerful than words.
Sometimes, when you’re trying to help a loved one who’s struggling, it’s more important to pay attention to their actions than to their words. Jimmy Hatch, a retired U.S. Navy Seal, spoke about his experience struggling with suicidal thoughts as a veteran. He said when he was struggling most, he wasn’t crying out for help, but friends picked up on the fact that he was acting different and helped him.
“No one gets medals for taking your buddy to a mental hospital, and they did it,” he said. “My words were great, but my actions were different… They realized that in spite of my words, I was not well, and they came and injected themselves into my life.”
4. Suicide isn’t “predetermined.” Just because you lost someone to suicide doesn’t mean you’ll suffer the same fate.
It’s true that losing someone to suicide increases your risk of suicide. But Dr. Moutier emphasized being a suicide loss survivor doesn’t mean your fate is predetermined, or that by default you’ll eventually suffer the same fate as your loved one.
Cooper said after his brother’s death, he feared what would happen to him, and wondered if other families felt the same way.
Dr. Moutier answered:
Suicide is very complicated, but in no means is this a predetermined type of situation. In fact, just like heart disease, if it runs in your family, you might take that to mean an extra call to action to take care of your health. Even more so than you normally would. That’s what I would hope people would take from that. It is not a predetermined type of genetic push.
5. After a suicide attempt, life can still be hard. But, you can live through it.
Dese’Rae L. Stage, who started Live Through This to both humanize suicide attempt survivors and let people they aren’t alone, said she wants people to know there is life after a suicide attempt — but that doesn’t mean it’s never going to get hard.
“What I’ve learned is we struggle, but we struggle better over time,” she said. “To me, that’s the real message of hope. It might continue to hurt, you might continue to have suicidal thoughts, but you can still get through it.”
You can watch the full show here.