Suicide has become the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, over 47,000 Americans took their lives in 2017 alone. While suicide prevention education is important, these statistics often leave people sad and hopeless because of the drastic amount of people who see death as their only escape from pain.
A lesser-known statistic reveals that for every suicide there are 25 other people who attempt suicide, according to a Today article. The AFSP states a similar statistic showing that in 2017, 1.4 million people attempted suicide but were not succesful. However, there is a glimmer of hope in these statistics, as the attempts did not end in tragedy.
So, why are these statistics less likely to be discussed? Perhaps because those who attempted are aware of the deep rooted shame and stigmas surrounding any discussion about suicide.
In the same Today article, author Rheana Murray shares the stories of several attempted suicide survivors in a beautiful way. She focuses on the ways they were able to recover and emerge into a life of renewal and an unexpected second chance. That does not mean it was easy, though.
One of the survivors, Nancy Nettles, recalls that she couldn’t “even describe how angry [she] was that [she] was still alive.” She expressed her frustration, especially towards God for not allowing her to die when she thought it was the best thing for herself and for her children. This was right after she attempted to overdose on her 31st birthday.
Feeling as though her community criticised her because of her attempt, Nettles struggled with discouragement in “trying to understand this narrative of being a strong black woman and having a mental illness.” But her story didn’t end there. She now works in Nashville as a therapist and spends fulfilling time with her children. Her story is one of life blooming from darkness.
Another striking testimony in the Today article comes from a 23-year-old college student Jillian Shih.
“I just felt desperate,” said Shih. “I just wanted a way out.”
Shih thought there was nothing left in life for her, so she attempted to overdose but was found by campus officials and taken to a hospital for immediate care. But she wanted to end her life because for her, being “back in treatment seemed like the worst thing in the world.”
However, Shih accepted the help offered to her and worked hard on her journey to recovery. Shih is now a nursing student at Simmons University and is researching suicide attempt survivors and what they experience at inpatient psychiatric units. Through time and dedication, Shih hopes to provide others with the opportunity to find second chances.
The main thread running through every story of recovery is the ever-present need for support. So, what should we do when our friends and family face situations like these?
We shouldn’t judge their struggle but come alongside them in their battles every day. Judgment is what drives people to feel isolated and creates a confirmation bias that they are broken and nobody will ever understand them. That’s why many people are afraid to admit they struggle with suicidal feelings. They are all too aware of the stigmas that come with admitting the truth.
If people were more accepting and open about these existing feelings, versus suppressing them, there is a chance that the suicide rate would decrease. Many times, just admitting one has suicidal feelings and knowing they will still be accepted can change a person’s whole perspective.
We must also learn to be sensitive when talking to those struggling, and recommend speaking to a professional to take the necessary precautions.
If someone is telling another about their suicidal thoughts, they don’t want their life to slip away, but are trying to get help before it’s too late. Someone’s harsh or quick judgements may be the last thing they are ever told, and we must, therefore, reexamine how we approach these situations.
September was National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and was set aside as a time to focus on providing resources and support for those struggling. Everyone has their mountains, their battles and their pain, and last month served as a reminder to all of us that we matter and are enough, even if we battle inner darkness. Though September is over, this mindset and awareness should last year round and be a lifeline for those who desperately need it.
Community and support must continue if we are ever going to overcome these suicidal obstacles. Barriers must be broken down and stigmas abolished, and when we do so, stories of rebirth can emerge.