TW: This post discusses suicide and suicide prevention-related topics.
Contrary to how it seems on this blog, writing about suicide prevention, and talking about the topic of suicide isn’t easy for me. It brings up difficult memories and has a tendency to take me back to times in my life that were extremely painful. But I’m now in a place where I feel more comfortable sharing what I’ve learned, which is why I continue doing it. It’s helped me find a voice as a mental health advocate, and helped me form my own mindset and opinion on how to approach suicide prevention. And that’s what I’d like to share today.
First of all, I want to say that in the following paragraphs, the thoughts and opinions I’ve formed are for how people generally discuss the topic of suicide. This post is not intended for my opinions for when the topic of suicide is personal in nature, but more about how we view suicide on a broader scale. When this topic is more personal or involves loved ones, I think that’s a completely different topic that requires a different conversation. This is more about a general mindset.
Examples are an easy way for me to get to my points, so I want to tell you about a phrase I heard from a friend a few years back that got me on this path. They were telling me about someone (not a person either of us knew personally) who had died by suicide, and as they were telling me more about the situation they offhandedly mentioned how tragic this was, and basically saying ‘well what can you do?’ It’s a common phrase to use about topics that are difficult to discuss; sometimes, there’s nothing left to say to but toss your hands up and say there’s nothing else to say. But for the first time during an exchange like this, I had the thought: why are we talking about this topic like it’s an inevitability, like we’re powerless?
Sometimes, my writing makes it seem like talking about mental health is simple and easy. Make no mistake, I know that what I’m talking about is extremely difficult, and sometimes can feel (and be) impossible. But I have also learned that there are ways to fight against the stigma, and one of those ways is to push others (and find others who will push me) to build a healthier community for as many people as possible. I like adding context to what I’m saying, so I just wanted to share that before saying – we need to find healthier, less-stigmatized ways to discuss the topics of mental health and suicide prevention.
Since I’m not an academic or mental health professional, I wouldn’t feel comfortable making any sweeping declarations on this topic, so I typically turn to research. And that research has shown me that, while suicide “…is not yet fully preventable, it’s far from inevitable” (US News & World Report, 2018). Suicide prevention “…requires digging deeper into depression, mental illness, and other known risk factors that don’t fit so neatly on a public-service brochure. The time to intervene is not just in the hours or days before a suicide attempt, but in the months and even years leading up to it.” (RAND, 2017)
Suicide prevention is a complicated topic and there is a lot to learn, but to talk it about it like a tragedy that cannot be prevented makes it seem like there’s nothing we can do. Should we be talking about suicide prevention the same way we talk about other inevitable tragedies or disasters? Because it’s what we’ve been doing, and it’s not working. It’s not easy to create this mindset, but in the years I’ve spent working toward it, I’ve seen my own attitude, and that of others, change toward suicide prevention. It’s not much, but it’s given me energy to continue this work, and at this point that’s all I can ask for.