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Why We Must Discuss Suicide Openly

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While the world is gradually coming to terms with the importance of mental health, there still remains a grave misunderstanding around suicide. I believe openly discussing suicide and suicidal ideation comes with an even greater burden and stigma compared to that which currently surrounds mental illness. For an individual who has never experienced suicidal thoughts, it may be difficult to understand why an individual may take their own life. It is important to raise awareness about suicide by helping educate others and eliminate current misconceptions.

To start, it is imperative to understand suicide is a “problem-solving” behavior. In the mind of someone experiencing suicidal ideation, their primary intention is to eliminate the pain they are enduring. The majority of people who are suicidal do not actually want to die, rather they want the pain to stop. Although they may wish to die, they are simultaneously wishing they could find another solution to their ongoing dilemma.

Unfortunately, today it is commonplace to criticize others from behind a computer screen. A behavior highlighted following the death of actor Robin Williams. Although beloved, many strangers to the actor and comedian labeled him as selfish for leaving his family to pick up the pieces of his death, while constantly claiming he had “so much going for him.”

Suicide is often labelled as a selfish act highlighting surviving family and friends and depicting them as “left behind.” Society quietly suggests the individual never thought about those who were dominant figures in their life. This is far from the truth. For many, loved ones are the reason to keep on living and trying to push away the pain. Yet for some, there comes a time when depression completely engulfs them, overriding their innate and natural desire to live because the emotional pain is too powerful to endure.

Mental illness is consuming and it does not discriminate. We must move past the idea money, fame and material possessions correlate with personal happiness. Mental illness is a medical illness and is linked to a genetic component. For illustration, my immediate family are some of my best friends. I was brought up in a loving home and provided many opportunities, for which I am incredibly grateful. But it isn’t enough to beat the all-consuming battle of depression, a medical disorder in my brain. Whether you feel the act of suicide is selfish or not, labeling someone as selfish for having suicidal thoughts will never help them recover, nor will it help their family or friends recover from their death.

It’s unfortunate that when an individual tries to express their suicidal thoughts, they are quickly labeled as crazy, psychotic or attention-seeking. Yet once the individual actually takes their own life, they are labeled again as selfish. “They could have sought help” is often heard. What could be worse than saying someone is selfish because they died by suicide, having never known what they were feeling?

Too often the words “mental illness” are used to punctuate the end of a misunderstood storyline. Too often, the conversation begins only after a tragedy occurs. We owe it to those who struggle, as well as to those who wish to support their loved ones, to educate ourselves on how to approach mental illness rather than to naively assume its absence. Mental illness should not be the conclusion to someone’s story, nor should it be the focus of anyone’s life. Rather, it is an opportunity for growth and resilience on a personal and community level.

Over 800,000 people die due to suicide every year with suicide being the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds. This is an international crisis that needs to be addressed, not ignored. It needs to be approached with empathy rather than insensitivity.

You can help.

Be present in the lives of loved ones who are struggling from depression. Approach the topic head on. Don’t be afraid to check in with them again and again. Validate their pain while providing them with resources to grow and learn from their experience.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Image via Thinkstock

Originally published: February 1, 2017
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