Today marks the close of National Suicide Prevention Week.
The annual observance comes on the heels of notable recent suicides, including musicians Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington.
In the Cedar Valley, the week also accompanies two troubling local stories.
Last week, The Courier reported an apparent suicide attempt by a West Waterloo High School student. The teen is said to have jumped from the school’s roof. Earlier this week, a Cedar Falls High School student took his life. By many accounts, both situations involve bullying.
Nationwide, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death, according to the Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
I’m a parent, and I frequently have several children and teens in my care. I work with college students and other young people.
When the occasion requires, I can initiate candid discussions with them about suicide. I can share my experiences, what I know and what I believe.
Often, those conversations make me feel as if there’s more I can do. A few months ago, I read a book that helped me understand reacting to suicide is not enough.
From “Think Like a Freak” by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, I learned suicide is among the top 10 causes of death in every U.S. age group, with boys and men committing suicide at nearly four times the rate of girls and women.
I took notes and began thinking about how to push myself to talk about suicide outside specific situations that seemed to require it.
And then I became busy. More likely, I must confess, I allowed myself to be distracted because it’s easier than confronting my sense of helplessness.
Today, I realize as a member of this community, I must do a better job talking about suicide prevention. I must look beyond my daughter, nieces, nephew, cousins and friends and do my part to ensure anyone who needs help gets it.
In the United States, there are an average of 121 suicides per day, exceeding 44,000 each year, according to FSP. For each suicide, another 25 people attempt it.
The rate of suicide is two times that of homicide, noted Levitt and Dubner.
In “Think Like a Freak,” they denounce moral taboos surrounding suicide for creating stigma and promoting silence. They blame these factors for helping to spur increases in suicide rates.
Well-funded research, innovation, improved technology and widescale, ubiquitous prevention campaigns have improved other societal ills, they note.
For example, such attention and communication played a direct role in reducing U.S. traffic fatalities by two-thirds since the 1970s. Further, the U.S. homicide rate is the lowest it’s been in 50 years, due largely to such approaches.
Suicide prevention remains largely underfunded. Relatively few people seek help, and survivors sometimes still avoid publicly naming suicide as a cause of death. Thus, reacting to suicide rather than doing more to prevent it costs us, write the authors.
FSP estimates suicide costs the United States $51 billion annually.
While suicide is highest among middle-aged people, it’s a major concern for adolescents and young adults. Among 15- to 24-year-olds, suicide is the third-leading cause of death — and second among those age 25 to 34.