The brother of a colleague. My mother-in-law’s father. A neighbor’s college sophomore. A close friend’s mother. It’s not just celebrities dying by suicide.
We’re talking about Kate and Anthony, and we talked about Robin Williams. Yet in every case I know personally, the cause of death is not openly discussed.
While carefully not addressing this problem, we are missing opportunities to prevent it. By guarding privacy, we are perpetuating the stigma surrounding death by suicide.
“The simple reason suicide has been neglected for so long is stigma. It is a human behavior that terrifies most people. Suicide is wrongly seen as a character or moral flaw – or even a sinful act. It is viewed as something shameful that must be hidden.” (NYT 6/11/18)
As the 10th leading cause of death, suicide is a public health problem that deserves greater attention and research focus. While warning signs and risk factors can be described, it remains unclear how to predict or prevent suicides. Only about .5 percent of the nearly 10 million adults reporting serious thoughts of suicide each year complete the act according to NIH and SAMHSA. And in 80 percent of the 1.3 million attempts each year, no one was told in advance.
“The interior drama that turns self-destruction into an idea, then an attractive choice, and finally a necessary solution is rarely evident to survivors.” (NYT 6/7/18)
What Can Employers and Employees Do?
We know that suicide stems from feelings that “I am not enough” and is more common in those struggling with depression or other mental illness, substance abuse and impulsivity, loss or fear of loss (relationship or financial loss, terminal illness), hopelessness and feeling worthless.
While no silver bullet exists, we can all do more to combat suicide. Speaking about non-celebrity as well as celebrity deaths, reaching out to those in distress, creating and maintaining social and community connectedness, advocating for treatment, investing in research and education, and advocating for parity will better protect our colleagues, friends and family members.