No Note, No Explanation
Suicide rates are rising, and the pain of the pandemic put more people at risk. Talking about it matters.
Some 47,500 Americans ended their lives in 2019, according to AAS. Half of those deaths involved firearms. While the factors leading to suicide are usually multiple and complex, the final act is often impulsive. Access to lethal means is a significant risk factor.
There are too many stories of families upended by loss, yet there are far more stories of hope and recovery. For every suicide attempt that proves lethal, there are 25 attempts that do not.
Nine out of 10 people who survive a suicide attempt will not go on to die by their own hands, Creighton says.
“Sometimes a family member intervenes, or they get the help they need, or a burden they’ve been feeling is somehow lifted,” she says. “For many, a big piece of it is realizing they are not alone. That’s why we encourage people to talk about it. They realize others are suffering just as they are, and there is nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to be stigmatized.”
Mayer, at PRS CrisisLink, offers a similar observation. “Suicide is not inevitable,” she says. “Many people who have thoughts of suicide find ways to cope. We can all play a part in making life more livable.”
There is something to be said for breaking the silence, for bringing these stories to light, even if broaching the subject feels scary and uncomfortable.
Toward the end of our interview, I ask Pamela whether her family ever went to therapy after her father’s death. “Honestly, I wish we had gotten some help as a family,” she says, “and individually. But it just never happened.”
It’s something she now regrets. “I’m sure I should [seek help],” she continues. “I’ve compartmentalized things so much that I’m…afraid…to open up that box. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping things tidy. But I’ve also suffered a lot by not dealing with it.”
In the meantime, she has found a way forward. In 2011, after many years in the corporate world, Pamela became a personal trainer, devoting herself to helping others with their physical health, which, she points out, contributes to better mental health. In 2014, she raised money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention by participating in its annual Walk for Suicide around the Tidal Basin and National Mall. The memory of her dad is ever-present.
“I would have loved for [my daughter] to know him,” she says. “I think he’d be proud of his family…the way we’ve persevered.”
Rebecca Morrison is a freelance writer and artist based in Arlington. Listen to her podcast, The Second Half, on iTunes.
Where to Find Help
Regional Hot Line: 703-527-4077
Regional Text Line: Text “CONNECT” to 85511
American Association of Suicidology
National Suicide Prevention Call and Chat Lines
Arlington Behavioral Healthcare Services
703-228-5160 (emergency line)
703-228-1560 (nonemergency line)
Suicide Prevention Resource Center
Suicide Warning Signs
If you recognize someone exhibiting these warning signs, it’s OK to ask about them directly and encourage the person to seek help.
• Threatening to hurt or kill himself or herself, or talking of wanting to do so
• Seeking access to firearms, pills or other means
• Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide
• Increased substance use (alcohol or drugs)
• Expression that there is no reason for living; no sense of purpose in life
• Anxiety, agitation, sleeplessness or sleeping all of the time
• Feeling trapped—like there’s no way out
• Withdrawal from friends, family and society
• Rage, uncontrolled anger or a fixation on revenge
• Reckless or risky behavior without consideration of consequences
• Dramatic mood changes
• Giving away prized possessions or seeking long-term care for pets
Source: American Association of Suicidology