Archive for July, 2018

They Were Fighting Too: The Unnamed Victims of Suicide

Texas suicide lawyerWhile celebrity deaths by suicide dominate the headlines, the United States is in crisis

“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.”

-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

In the past several years, notably the past several months, the world has lost a brilliant mind almost every day of the week. Here are some of their names:

  • Robin Williams: Monday, August 11, 2014.
  • Kate Spade: Tuesday, June 5, 2018.
  • Chester Bennington: Thursday, July 20, 2017.
  • Anthony Bourdain: Friday, June 8, 2018.

But we don’t know the vast majority of the names of the 123 people who die by suicide daily. It should not feel uncomfortable and strange to talk about mental health issues in a first-world country where we should have access to quality mental health care, but here we are as a nation, tongues tied. We are constantly awestruck when a celebrity name crosses our newsfeed followed by a comment stream of virtual mourners.

Make no mistake, celebrities are important people. Anthony Bourdain inspired countless viewers and followers of his work to be themselves and cross cultural borders. Kate Spade gave hope to women entrepreneurs and immortalized her name in the world of fashion. Robin Williams touched millions of hearts, and his voice can still be heard on treasured VHS copies of Aladdin. Chester Bennington of the band Linkin Park gave hope to the hopeless through compelling lyrics and was outspoken about his battles with depression. But equally important are the thousands of others who die by suicide every year.

So, what went wrong? America sees 25 suicide attempts for every completed tragedy and subsequent loss of life. And the numbers are only increasing. According to findings published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Americans are dying faster than ever before—by a completely preventable cause. And how the media covers high-profile deaths may very well influence the next attempt.

The CDC’s report looks grim

The introduction to the study coldly informs us that suicide rates in the United States “have risen nearly 30% since 1999.” These deaths have become more frequent since events like the 2016 election. They are happening more frequently than before among people who were not previously flagged for a mental health disorder. Celebrities’ mental health struggles, even those discovered after the fact, shed light on a continuing issue. People are dying due in part to high access to lethal means such as guns. Firearms account for 51% of all suicides just in the year of 2016.

Who is dying?

As always, those marginalized by class, race, level of disability, gender or sex suffer the most.

  • In the Native American community, suicide is a major leading cause of death and has been on the rise since 2003, according to the CDC.
  • LGBTQIA+ identifying people are also at risk, with youth contemplating suicide at almost 3x the rate of heterosexual, cisgender youth.
  • Those with access to lethal weapons, like guns, are more likely to act on their impulses and complete a suicide.

Across all demographic groups, men die at greater rates than women. This is largely due to the stigma against mental illness that prevents men from seeking help. However, the proportion of women committing suicide is increasing.

What is killing them?

Job stress has been cited as a frequent factor in suicides, with some studies even showing that the deadliest day of the week was Wednesday, when the demands of a harsh work environment in a country that still stigmatizes mental health prove to be too much. The physical effects of mental stress can cause anything from Raynaud’s Syndrome to a devastating depressive episode in someone genetically predisposed to a mental health disorder.

Untreated mental health issues, especially in areas of little to no access to providers such as rural areas, or for sufferers with fewer resources such as the uninsured, underinsured or homeless, can easily lead to death. Bad treatment, or no treatment at all, can quickly extinguish the life of someone who never got the chance to be famous, to make headlines, to have a comment section mourn for them. At best, their families will receive “thoughts and prayers.” Not peace.

Copycat deaths

When the media covers a celebrity suicide, there’s a well-documented impact on the public. Suicide hotlines see a surge of calls come in from people seeking help, as the public shares their numbers across social media like wildfire. However, these “contagion” deaths show what is known as a “dose effect.” The larger doses of tragic news we expose the public to, especially youth, the more the thought lingers in their minds. After the recent loss of designer Kate Spade, hotlines were bombarded with calls. But for every call answered, one wasn’t made.

Youths are impressionable. High-profile suicides give them a look at someone who is like them who, as the thinking goes, found a way out. The celebrity death may quickly inspire their own actions. In fear of “suicide contagion,” a set of media reporting guidelines was set up in order to help curb the kind of graphic coverage death is given. And yet, thousands of people will die by suicide this year, partially due to online news outlets and social media that either don’t have to or simply don’t want to adhere to these guidelines.

Healing the divide

How can we help? From becoming an advocate for suicide prevention to practicing listening and empathy with your loved ones, your role in lowering the number of suicides must be an active one. We must collectively take it upon ourselves to give names to suicide victims, and advocacy cannot be silent. Suicide is a leading cause of death in America. The nameless victims that the media do not reach number into the muffled, screaming thousands, and still we do nothing.

Our healthcare system does not reach potential victims. Our culture still stigmatizes mental health as weakness instead of treating the brain like another sick organ in the body. Our work lives will continue to act as if more work is the solution to mental health, and employees will never use a sick day for a mental illness without the temptation to call in with flu instead. It’s more believable than this invisible plague. More accepted. Covered by insurance. Less likely to put your job in jeopardy. That’s true despite the physically debilitating effects that come with mental illness. The aches, pains and brain fog of depression and anxiety make it impossible for a mentally ill person to throw themselves into their work and forget about their troubles.

And so, we as a country are quick to cast light on mental illness for a few brief moments of thoughts and prayers before we close our eyes again and shut out the cries of the other 25 attempts for that one death. We act as though they’re a burden that needs to be shut away.

Our culture is sick, and mental healthcare is one of its festering wounds. Healing the divide requires not only remembering the names of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, but also asking the names of others—and then asking how we can prevent more.

If you are unsure of how to become a force against suicide, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline has several easy-to-follow tips and guides for you. We should all begin with empathy for our fellow beings.

The Law Offices of Skip Simpson represents the loved ones of those who have died by suicide due to negligence. Our firm stands by each and every victim and the ones who mourn them, and seek justice in their names.