I have been thinking a lot about suicide lately – not thoughts of ending my own life, but why any young person, with so much of life ahead of them, would ever get to the point where they would choose death over life. (Older people – who actually have the highest rates of suicide – are a different matter. I think at some point, everyone has the right to die – but that’s a topic for another blog.)
In America, someone attempts suicide once every minute, and someone is successful in that attempt once every 17 minutes. Worldwide, about 2,000 people kill themselves every day. Actually, the rates are probably much higher than that, as many deaths are categorized as accidental deaths, but in reality, are probably suicides (only about a third of known suicide victims leave a note). Even with understated statistics, suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in the United States, and outnumbers deaths by homicide. For every two people killed by homicide, three people die from suicide. Surprisingly, the spring months of March, April and May have the highest suicide rates, consistently four to six percent higher than the rest of the year (suicides around Christmas time are actually below average). And not so surprisingly, more suicides occur on Monday than any other day of the week; Saturday has the fewest.
I recently watched The Edge of Seventeen.[i] The opening scene deals with suicide in a somewhat comical way:
But suicide is no laughing matter. It is a complex issue, usually with more than a single reason behind it. I am not a mental health specialist but I think it is safe to say that those who attempt to kill themselves usually feel hopeless, abandoned, ostracized, laughed at, or otherwise like an outsider. Statistics bear this out. Divorced people are three times more likely to take their own life than people who are married. Abuse victims are more likely to try suicide than their peers. LBGT high school students attempt suicide more often than heterosexual teens.
Although it has been almost 40 years since I watched the movie, The Deer Hunter,[ii] I still remember vividly this scene of Russian roulette:
Did you catch Robert DeNiro’s urgings to Christopher Walken? “I love you. Come home, Mickey, just come home. Home. Talk to me.” But for Walken’s character, it was too late. The horrors of war had irreversibly changed him. Is it too simplistic or naive to believe that suicides could be prevented if everyone had someone who truly loves them, and a safe place where they can just be themselves without judgment or repercussions?
One of the saddest stories I have ever read involved a young gay man struggling to be accepted for who he really was. In 2000, Stuart Matis walked up the steps of a Mormon church building in Los Altos, California, with a note reading “do not resuscitate” pinned to his shirt, and shot himself. After a lifetime spent struggling to reconcile his church’s beliefs and being gay, he explained in his suicide note that “for the first time in over 20 years, I am free from my pains. As I believed that I was a Christian, I believed that I could never be gay. Perhaps my death … might be some catalyst for much good…. Your actions might help to save many young people’s lives.”
The same night Matis was writing his suicide note, his mother was up writing a letter to church authorities asking them to change the Church’s position on gays.
Before his suicide, Matis thought about leaving the Church. He approached his church leader and told him he was gay and had thoughts about killing himself. The church leader, who counseled Matis for several months, pleaded with him, if this is a choice between life and the church, choose life.
Sadly, Matis’s best friend, also gay, took his own life two months later.
Like Matis, people who consider taking their own lives really don’t want to die, they just want to stop hurting and they can’t see any other alternative. A suicidal person will give some kind of clue about how they feel before they take action. Often it is in some form of joke or flippant comment, but take those jokes and comments seriously. They are really a cry for help. You don’t make someone suicidal by showing you care. Discussing the subject openly is one of the best things you can do for them. And as you talk with a friend or loved one who is contemplating hurting themselves, just be yourself and non-judgmental. Let them know their life is important to you. And give hugs. In fact, give hugs whether or not a friend or loved one is contemplating suicide. Not surprisingly, studies show that people who hug are happier than those that don’t.
Most of us at one time or another feel like Nadine does in this scene near the end of The Edge of Seventeen. We don’t like what we see when we look at ourselves and don’t know how to change it.
Please know your life is important to someone. If the choice is life versus the alternative, please choose life.
Other times, we feel like Damien. Someone confides in us their innermost feelings and we don’t know what to say. Often in those times, all that is needed is that hug. So if you’re feeling blue, talk to someone about it. If someone feeling depressed or alone confides in you, just listen.
And don’t forget that hug.
[i] The Edge of Seventeen
- Production Company: Gracie Films and STX Entertainment
- Director: Kelly Fremon Craig
- Screenwriter: Kelly Fremon Craig
- Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner
- Release date: November 18, 2016
[ii] The Deer Hunter
- Production Company: EMI Films and Universal Pictures
- Director: Michael Cimino
- Screenwriter: Michael Cimino and Deric Washburn
- Starring: Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken and John Cazele
- Release date: February 23, 1979