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BLOG—Surviving Suicide

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Why I write

My schizophrenic paternal uncle committed suicide in the winter of 1978. I was 18 months old. In 2002, my older brother, also paranoid schizophrenic, took his own life. My first master’s degree featured a thesis later published as a book, The Many Deaths of Judas Iscariot: A Meditation on Suicide. I have spent much of my activist and pastoral career working in suicide awareness groups, suicide survivor communities, and as of last year, I am a member of the Greene County LOSS team, a group of professionals who respond to the scenes of suicide to provide care for loved ones and also support for police and EMTs. I’m a member of the Greene County Suicide Prevention Task Force, a field advocate for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and I write for the International Bipolar Foundation.   

I’m also one of 22 million Americans who live with bipolar disorder. 

Suicidal ideation is not something new to me, and I’d be lying if I said the last thoughts were long in the past. They aren’t. In fact, I write this very piece in the grips of a “bad patch,” as I often call the rough times. I’m lucky. I have a home to live in, family and friends who are compassionate, good mental health care, and a larger community that is sensitive to people with mental illness. Most often, I’m able to isolate myself and to reduce the triggers that might make me go to the dark place. Still, I like many others am at increased risk for suicide.

I do not write as a journalist here. I write as someone whose life has been inextricably impacted by suicide. 

Some Statistics

September is Suicide Prevention and Awareness month. There is greater awareness about suicide today than there was even 15 years ago, but sadly this hasn’t translated into a decrease in rates. In fact, the opposite is true, according to the National Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in our country.
  • There is an average of 121 suicides per day.
  • Middle-aged white men account for the largest percentage of suicides.
  • Since 2012, the rates of suicides linked to cyber bullying have increased exponentially.
  • The rate of teenage girls completing suicide reached an all-time high in 2015, the last year for which comprehensive statistics are available. 
  • For every successful suicide, there are 25 attempts.
  • Half of all suicides involve firearms and those who abuse alcohol are 120x more likely to attempt and/or succeed. 

Not all suicides are created equal, though. Some are owed to health issues. Others to loneliness. People suicide because of money issues, marital problems, the impacts of bullying, drug addiction, and countless other factors; as Caesar Pavese once wrote, “No one ever lacks a reason for suicide.” 

The local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI Greene County) and the MHRB (Mental Health & Recovery Board for Clark, Greene, and Madison) are excellent resources if you or someone you know is contemplating suicide. 

Surviving Suicide

It is a bit of an odd term, suicide survivor, but it describes what family members and loved ones must do: survive suicide. It goes beyond the act, beyond the moment of discovery or being informed. it goes to the heart of your relationship with the person who suicided. Did I do something to cause this? Could I have prevented it? Why didn’t I do something? Why did I do what I did? For some people, these questions can haunt them for decades. Sometimes, for the whole of their lives. 

Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month is about speaking honestly. That can be difficult, especially if the family does not all understand the action in the same way. In my family, suicide was a dark secret, largely until I pulled it, kicking and screaming, into the light. Religion can be a complicating factor, which is what I wrote my book about a decade ago. Culture, geographical region, and even the method of suicide can contribute to complicating an already unthinkable situation.

This Saturday and Sunday (September 16 and 17) at the House of AUM in King’s Yard, I will be giving two workshops called “Surviving Suicide Spiritually.” These are free of charge. The sessions begin at 3:30 and run until 5 o’clock. Part of the awareness we must focus on in September is an awareness of those who are left behind by suicide, who often find themselves alone after the casseroles have been eaten and the well-wishes have ceased. The years may pass, but that does not mean we have adequately addressed our myriad emotions. Sometimes we have to give ourselves permission to heal. 


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