Tuesday, September 10, 2013

World Suicide Prevention Day - September 10

Today is September 10, 2013.

One million people die every year by suicide.  That's approximately one death every 40 seconds. By the time you finish reading this article, a number of people will have killed themselves.  The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are 20  people who fail to kill themselves for every one who succeeds.  Suicide accounts for nearly half of the violent deaths worldwide, and as Brian Mishara, a former IASP president, has noted, "more people kill themselves than die in all wars, terrorist acts, and interpersonal violence combined."  Suicide is the "most common cause of death for people aged 15 – 24.  The number of people who die by suicide may reach 1.5 million per year by 2020, according to estimates.  In the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the highest rates of suicides for both males and females were among Native Americans and Alaskan Natives.

September 10 was originally set aside by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2003 as World Suicide Prevention Day.   These two organizations now also collaborate with the World Federation for Mental Health to sponsor activities that will draw attention to suicide as a public health issue.  This year, they are asking everyone to light a candle near a window at 8 pm this evening to show your solidarity. 

Each year, there is a different theme.  This year's theme is "Stigma: A Major Barrier for Suicide Prevention."  The reason for this is simple: 90 percent of all suicides are caused by mental illness, in particular, depression.  People who suffer from any of the many forms of mental illness experience stigma.

Social stigma is extreme disapproval of an individual or group who differ in some way from the cultural norm.  People with physical disabilities and obvious diseases such as leprosy experience social stigma.  So do people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), people of a racial group that is in the minority in a given location, followers of a minority religion, people who have a low level of education, people without jobs, people of certain ethnic groups (depending on location), people who were born illegitimate, and people who have been convicted of a crime.  That's in addition to all the people who suffer from mental illness.

I read a very powerful explanation of the way in which stigma contributes to suicide on a website called Suicide.org. (I'm giving you the link to the page where I read what is quoted below, and you can navigate to the home page from there.)  The piece was written by Kevin Caruso.  The following is only a partial quote.

If you had a broken leg, you would go to a hospital immediately. There would be no hesitation, and no consideration about what others would "think." And after you left the hospital, you would not hide out in your house because you would be afraid of being discriminated against because of your "condition." You would just go on with your life.

No big deal. A broken leg. A cast. And in a few months, a healed bone.

But what if a stigma was attached to having a broken leg? Then what? What if you could lose your job because of it? What if people would treat you differently because of it? What if people said that you were weak because of it? Weak? Yes. Only weak people get broken legs. So, you are weak! And what if people told you that your broken leg was all in you mind? That you just needed to be "strong"? That you were choosing to have a broken leg? And what if you lost friends because of your broken leg? Remember--you are a weak person for having a broken leg, and don't you ever forget it. And what if people whispered behind your back about you because of your broken leg? After all, only crazy people have broken legs. You didn't know that? Well now you do. You are crazy! That's right, crazy!

So you are ridiculed incessantly, become a pariah, lose your job, lose friends, and now you start believing that you actually are weak and crazy. And the pain of the broken leg is unbearable because you never sought treatment. How could you? The "broken-leg stigma" prevented you from getting help.

So you begin having suicidal thoughts. You want to end it all. You cannot go on.
Within the Native American population, there is a very high incidence of conditions that result in stigma, including being of a minority race, speaking a minority language, being a follower of a minority religion, just for starters.  When you add in the fact that on some reservations there are rates of unemployment that exceed 90 percent, that alcoholism and violence are rampant, and that the people are excruciatingly poor, it is no surprise that an overwhelming number of people in this group are depressed, and it is abundantly clear there are so many suicides in this group of people.  Remember that depression can be caused by a number of factors, including post traumatic stress.  One in three Native American women is assaulted or raped in her lifetime.

If you are on Facebook, go to the World Suicide Prevention Day 2013  event page for more information, including links to help for those who might be contemplating suicide as well as links for people who have lost a loved one to suicide.  Otherwise click on the World Suicide Prevention Day link given in the second paragraph of this post.

Caruso stresses, "The most important thing that we can all do for people who are mentally ill is to get them help as quickly as possible, while we show them as much love and concern as possible."  <3 br="">

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