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We Need to Talk About Suicide All the Time, Not Just When a Celebrity Dies

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When people talk about celebrity suicides, they often begin with comments about a light being snuffed out before its time, a star that blinked out of the sky too soon. Again and again, their final act is highlighted, the fact that they could have kept going but chose to give up. People comment on what a truly great loss it is.

When people talk about celebrity suicides, they often share all the ways that celebrity impacted their life. Whether movies, music, sports or the fashion industry, people all over the world share all the ways their life was forever touched by these larger than life strangers they only saw in the spotlight but never truly knew.

When people talk about celebrity suicides, they often declare that it never should have happened, that better mental health care needs to be in place. They converse about private struggles and the overwhelming fear they must have faced of coming out about the true depth of their illness.

When people talk about celebrity suicides, they talk about how brave that soul was for fighting such horrible demons for so many years. They are praised for being such brave souls for fighting as long as they did. Celebrities are seen as tragic victims who eventually succumbed to a horrible unseen monster.

When people talk about celebrity suicides, there’s often a tremendous outpouring of love and a universal demand for change. Suicide is in everyone’s mind and on everyone’s lips. Then, as quick as it began, the sentiment fades. Other news stories start trending. Those losses are widely forgotten until highlighted again by an anniversary of their death or when a memory is randomly stirred by happenstance, like an old movie or song playing in the background.

It has become second nature to acknowledge and mourn those who are larger than life and who tragically take their own lives. Timelines are filled with posts and tweets echoing wishes that souls can finally be at peace. It has become second nature to highlight all the problems with the mental health system and the stigma attached to the illness itself. But it always seems to be a passing fad, lost from people’s minds as soon as the words leave their lips.

But what about the average, run of the mill person who dies by suicide?

When an average person dies by suicide, people often talk of selfishness and weakness. There is an overwhelming sentiment that they should have fought harder, tried harder, said something, not given up. The average person who dies by suicide is not seen as a victim but rather, as an offender, making a horrible choice that will drastically and tragically impact the lives of everyone left in their wake.

When an average person dies by suicide, people are afraid to even acknowledge their life. It is as if their final tragic choice erased their entire existence, making it too painful and too shameful to talk about. We cannot talk about them. Their names are whispered in corners. Have you heard about… ? Their entire life often becomes summarized by their final act.

When an average person dies by suicide, we usually don’t talk about mental health or the need for change. The fact is that we rarely talk at all. Those closest to the loss mourn tearfully in silence, lighting candles and quietly asking why. The rest of the world continues on as if they never existed.

What if I told you that the celebrities who died by suicide were just average people, too? What if I told you that, despite their status and their wealth, they had the same thoughts, hopes and fears as “average” people and struggled with the very same mental illness. Would you mourn the average person’s loss as greatly or as deeply? Would the average person then be remembered as much for their lives as their death? Would change and better mental health treatment be demanded for the average person as it is with the elite?

We need to stop going through the motions of mourning celebrities and forgetting everyone else that we lose to suicide. They are both equally tragic and both deserve so much more. Celebrity suicides deserve to be remembered beyond when they’re trending. Average people who commit suicide need to be remembered period. And above everything else, change is desperately needed.

Mental illness is not a dirty word, a secret we can only talk about in hushed tones in secluded corners. We need to stop letting stigma dictate our actions and inaction. When one in five people struggles with mental illness and suicide is one of the biggest killers in multiple age groups across the board, it is no longer a problem we can ignore.

No one deserves to be shamed for their mental health or vilified posthumously because they lost their battle with their mental illness. It is a very real condition and one that deserves treatment, for both those who are famous and those who are not. It is an illness that has turned fatal for far too many people, not because their bodies ceased to work, but rather because their minds lost the will to live.

Better access to mental health treatment is desperately needed. We have to remove the stigma so those struggling, whether they are famous or not, are able to come forward when they are struggling, without fear that it will ruin their career or paint them as someone who is broken, crazy and just not trying hard enough. We need to exercise compassion and encourage communication so that everyone who is struggling is able to receive treatment without fear.

We also need to do better when it comes to acknowledging suicide victims’ lives, not just if they’re famous and not only again on anniversaries of the tragedy. We need to openly talk about their lives and their struggles, acknowledge the gorilla in the room and pull that monster out of the shadows into the light. We need to make conversations about mental illness as commonplace as mental illness itself. We need to face stigma head on and erase it.

We should not only be talking about suicide when a celebrity takes their own life.  We should be talking every time someone dies, demanding change. We should not just go through the motions of caring about mental health when it is trendy, but truly care about it year round. The truth is that, on average, someone dies from suicide every 16.2 minutes. If we vowed to talk about suicide for just 20 minutes every time someone died, it would never leave our minds or our lips.

Suicide is always tragic, whether the victim was famous or not.  Suicide is a death that could be prevented if there was better access to mental health treatment and less stigma dictating the choices and actions of everyone.

When a celebrity dies by suicide, the topic is on the minds and lips of everyone. It is the perfect time to start a dialogue, to begin fighting for change, to check in with those you know are struggling and see whether they’re OK. It is the perfect time to reach out to those you know who have lost someone to suicide and share fond memories you’ve long ago locked away, to breathe new life into their memory.

We can do better. We must do better. Because people are dying. Not just our celebrities — but so many average people, too.  Our fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives, children, friends, coworkers, neighbors. It is an epidemic, and one that is largely preventable.

If we, as a society, are willing to do better.

We must do better.

Otherwise, people are going to keep dying.

And suicide will periodically keep trending.

Because people only want to talk about suicide when a celebrity dies.

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Getty image via kozorog

Originally published: June 8, 2018
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