diGrazia: Suicide poses difficult questions but few answers

I’m 23 years old and four people in my life have died by suicide and at least three others have attempted to kill themselves.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the country and the 13th in Massachusetts, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).

In the United States, one person dies by suicide every 11.69 minutes, with one Massachusetts resident every 14 hours. Ninety percent of those who die by suicide had a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death, according to the most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, listed on the AFSP website.

But suicide is more than just another statistic. It’s a public health issue, taking away the people we love, and it is preventable as long as we all take the time to recognize the signs.

After every one of those emotionally breaking phone calls filled with painful news about another friend gone too soon, I found myself asking the “what if” questions.

What if I talked to them more? What if I tried to force them to get help? What if I was there? What if I could have stopped it?

I finally had to learn how to stop blaming myself. I understand that any loss of a loved one is hard to bear, but the ones we lose to suicide tend to hurt for a little longer, at least for me.

For my loved ones who died by suicide, I think about them every single day. Some days I remember the memories we shared and get upset. Other days, I think just how blessed everyone was to have that person in their life, even if it was just for a short period of time.

For those in my life who were able to make it through their darkest times, some of them have told me on a number of occasions how blessed they feel to still be alive. The others, who were too afraid to talk about it at the time, have told me the stigmas against suicide are really what made it hard for them to open up.

In college I made a documentary, after going through archives of scholastic research, on the social stigmas of suicide and how they affect the grieving process. I interviewed the older sister of a friend of mine who died by suicide the summer after graduating high school.

My interviewee, a mental health counselor, said her sister’s death was a shock to the whole family. She found out about it while she was at the hospital giving birth to her first child. Her first day home with her newborn was her first day home without a sister.

After her sister’s death, she noticed the negative stigmas that surround suicide, which is why she refused to stay silent about it. When people asked what happened, she told them. It’s important to talk about, she said during the documentary interview.

One of the biggest misconceptions about suicide is that it’s a selfish act. A major warning sign of suicide, according to AFSP, is when someone talks about feeling as though they are a burden on others.

Feeling as though you are a burden to others is more of a selfless act than a selfish one, in my opinion. I only say that because I’ve felt it before, and I know the effort it takes to try and overcome it.

I’ve had dark days, but I’ve been lucky enough to have people by my side who are always there when I need someone to listen. Not everyone is as lucky to have such people in their life.

We need to end the stigmas surrounding suicide and talk about it more, with ourselves, our friends, our children, and our peers. The first step is to show compassion.

If you or a person you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

The AFSP lists a number of warning signs for suicide, including:

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated, or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide, the AFSP recommends you take these steps:

  • Do not leave the person alone.
  • Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.
  • Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).
  • Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.

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