October 12, 2018
Living the Life
Recently, several high-profile suicides have made front page news. Fashion designer Kate Spade committed suicide in June, hanging herself in her penthouse apartment located on the ultra glamorous Park Avenue in New York City. Anthony Bourdain, the renowned celebrity chef and television personality, hung himself just days later in a swanky hotel in Alsace, France. Bourdain and Spade seemingly had everything: wealth, fame, a robust family life. To suddenly commit suicide, an act which appears from the outside to be so extreme, both of the celebrities stunned the general public, which is seldom stunned by news today. Neither Spade nor Bourdain had withdrawn from the public stage. Bourdain, in particular, had recently become a singular voice in the #MeToo movement, actively supporting his girlfriend, Asia Argento, a Harvey Weinstein accuser.
The United States is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. It is, arguably, the only remaining superpower. The economy is doing well. Unemployment is down. Wages are up, and yet the suicide rate is spiraling out of control.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that of the 1 million suicides that are committed annually, nearly 80 percent of them occur in impoverished or underdeveloped parts of the world. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the U.S. has experienced a 30 percent increase in suicides since 2000. So why are the suicide rates so high in a country so seemingly prosperous as the United States? The answer is complicated.
Historically, men have been more likely to commit suicide successfully, though women have been more likely to attempt it. Now, suicides among women have risen by 50 percent and are nearly on par with the male statistics. In less than a generation, an oft referenced trend has nearly completely reversed itself. Among both men and women, suicide is the second leading cause of death between the ages of 25 and 34. Teenage girls are now three times as likely to commit suicide as they were in 2000. White, middle aged men without college degrees have also increased sharply since 2006.
So what factors are driving this increase? Experts say there are several factors that may be affecting the steady rise in suicides. The CDC credits factors like bullying, sexual violence, and child abuse. Experts surmise that the increased scrutiny on these sensitive issues from the general public has triggered depression and an increase in suicidal tendencies among those who have suffered the aforementioned abuses. Feelings of inadequacy or experiencing extreme changes in environment or lifestyle can also trigger depression or suicidal thoughts as well.
What is being done to raise awareness about this important issue in the Washington, D.C. metro area? Locally, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is sponsoring several “Out of the Darkness” walkathons to raise awareness around this crucial issue in the DMV. Alnicia Gibson, one of the representatives for the walk in Rockville, Maryland is encouraging people to continue to participate in the nationwide walks and donate towards the cause. Donations will be accepted for the walkathon fundraiser through December. Check the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website for walkathons and fundraisers near you.
The SAVE Network, a group dedicated to preventing suicide in the U.S., lists several factors to look out for when you believe someone you know might be suicidal. SAVE says there are signs such as:
- talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
- constantly talking about wanting to die or to kill him or herself
- searching for or asking about ways to kill him or herself
- talking about being a burden to others
Although these are more obvious or visible signs, often persons who are suicidal do not show any signs of being in crisis. Such cases often end in “surprise” suicides. In such cases, loved ones and associates should be vigilant in monitoring someone who might be in crisis and suicidal, but shows no suicidal tendencies. These are very difficult to detect, but occasionally a possible suicide can be prevented by addressing the crisis itself. By encouraging them to talk or seek out professionals to assist with the crisis, the likelihood of a “surprise” suicide can be lessened.
Having a strong support system has been proven to lessen the likelihood of suicide. Encouraging your loved one to seek sustained mental guidance can also help prevent suicide. The most important thing that can be done to shed light on the issue of suicide is to speak out about the topic openly. If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, there are resources available to help you.
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available 24 hours per day. The toll-free telephone number is 1-800-273-8255.