This week is Mental Illness Awareness Week. What better time than now to focus on the problem of suicide, which is usually the result of depression or PTSD.
In my last post, guest blogger Erin Neathery described the effect that suicide had on her, after her husband ended his own life. In mid-September, during National Suicide Prevention Week, I also posted about the suicide of a friend of mine, Guy Parsons, in my teen years. In both cases, a firearm was used.
Some important statistics to keep in mind:
- A little over half of all suicides in the United States use firearms.
- More than 90% of attempts with firearms are fatal, far outweighing the success rate of other methods (such as drug overdose or cutting, which are about 3% successful) (source).
- Suicides account for over half of all shootings.
- Although most gun owners reportedly keep a firearm in their home for "protection" or "self defense," 83 percent of gun-related deaths in these homes are the result of a suicide, often by someone other than the gun owner.
- The majority of suicides are from an impulsive decision. Seventy percent of suicide attempters decide to kill themselves on an impulse - less than an hour before their attempt. The ready availability of guns makes for a deadly combination.
- Ninety percent of people who survive a suicide attempt do not go on to die by suicide.
- 75% of youth suicides by gun used a parent's firearm.
The "why" of suicide is very important, but we also cannot ignore the "how" of suicide. The availability of guns to suicidal people is a deadly combination. Means matter.
For more statistics on guns and suicide, see the Brady Campaign web page on the topic.
Despite the fact that there are more suicide shootings than homicidal shootings or accidental shootings, you nonetheless almost never hear about them in the media. As one medical professional I know recently told me, "The only time a suicide is reported is when it's a famous person or really young person who has been bullied before they committed suicide." I would add that it is also reported if the suicide was in a very public manner or was a murder/suicide. An acquaintance of mine who makes her living as a crime scene cleanup service, commented on the matter, saying, "Since suicides are rarely reported in the media, only those of us working in law enforcement, as first responders, or in crime scene cleanup see the full scope of the problem." Here in Eugene, according to her, there is at least one suicide a week that she hears about. So far this year, I only know of one that was reported in the media here, at it was a murder/suicide.
I know from the death of my friend that the suicide of a friend or loved one is intensely personal and wounding. For this reason, most are not reported in the media, and usually those who were affected don't wish to talk about it. This is understandable.
But the silence is also deadly.
Because of the silence, people vastly underestimate the scope of the problem. This lulls them into a false sense of security. They may realize that a loved one is depressed or acting irrationally, and may even hear them talk about suicide, but they don't think it could happen to them. You hardly ever hear about it, after all, right?
If you know someone who is suicidal, there are some commonsense steps you can take to prevent tragedy. Take every suicidal statement from someone seriously, no matter how insincere they seem. Stay with them. If possible, remove lethal weapons and non-critical medicines from the home, or urge them to do so voluntarily. Get them mental counseling. Tell other family and friends to watch them for danger signs. These steps may seem imposing to some people, but imposing on someone is far better than losing them forever.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is an excellent source to learn about suicide prevention and warning signs. Go here to find out about the risk factors and warning signs. Click here to find out what you can do to help prevent suicide. The C.A.R.E.S. suicide prevention organization is also a great resource.