The Why of Suicide
45,000 Americans die by suicide every year...On average, 123 Americans die by suicide everyday. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for all Americans. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of 10 to 34 and it is the 4th leading cause of death for those individuals between the ages of 35 to 54. There were TWICE as many suicides (45,000) than homicides (19,000) in 2016. Add in the latest data that says America's suicide rate has increased nearly 30% since 1999. Makes one wonder - why? how?
"Just today, 123 Americans will die because of suicide"
For most of my professional life, I have worked on the front lines of mental health care. I spent 5 years on a Mobile Crisis Team assessing individuals who were actively suicidal, homicidal or psychotic. I spent another 10 years in the criminal justice system as a mental health specialist and as a mental health program manager. I've also experienced the pain, hurt and bewilderment of suicide as I lost a fraternity brother just three weeks before we graduated from college.
"How do we stop it? What causes suicide to happen?"
In all of this, you could say I've been on a quest for a good portion of my adult life to find out the "why" with the hope of "how" do we stop it. What do I think is the root cause? I believe it involves the word - connection. From Day One, we are born with a desire to connect to another human being - if we don't connect at the beginning it is a guarantee that we will not survive. As we grow older, that basic human need never changes, never withers and never dies - we need "live" human connection as much as we need food and water.
When we hospitalize someone for inpatient psychiatric treatment what is the preferred mode of therapy? GROUP therapy. We understand the grounding and healing power of a shared group experience. Think about the most memorable events of your life - I'm pretty certain it is not an event where you were the lone participant. Random yet maybe a relevant thought, isn't it interesting that we wake up to talk shows either on the radio or TV (versus music and scripted TV shows)? We need re-connection at the start of everyday to ground us - to provide perspective - and to re-engage the slumber of our individual self to the realities of the outside world.
"We Need Connection Like We Need Food and Water"
In my opinion, I don't think it comes as any surprise that the suicide rate is up almost 30% since 1999 given what has happened in our world since then. Our use and reliance on technology was meant to accelerate and enhance our connectivity to the world around us, but we have all fallen into the trap (myself included) that we are more tuned out because of our utilization of technology. We are losing the art of face to face communication and our current political climate has only taken a flame thrower to the principles of healthy communication and connection. To my friends on the left and the right, us versus them doesn't work. Those conversations will always end with furrowed brows, crossed arms, angry stares and a growing determination to build an informational arsenal that will surely win the day the next time a certain topic is discussed. If you continue down this path all you will find is loneliness and isolation even though you are surrounded by people who look like you and think like you. Yes, that is relationship, but it isn't healthy relationship and it doesn't have much of an opportunity to become deep, authentic, genuine, real, intimate and loving relationship.
"Strong and Secure Human Connection Knows No Bounds and It Enhances the Experience of the World Around Us"
There's a lot of sound research out there that speaks to the power of connection especially when it comes to decreasing the rates of depression, substance abuse, violence and even suicide. My hope is that we will start to consider, practice and implement the core tenets of healthy connection which means to turn towards - to acknowledge - to respect - to listen - to explore before responding and to take the risk of vulnerability with another human being. Why should we? Because the data is beginning to tell us that the way we are doing things right now is not working...
Statistics Provided by the National Institute of Mental Health - https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/suicide.shtml
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/p0607-suicide-prevention.html