Saturday, December 13, 2014
I am throttling along in the Megabus somewhere between Minneapolis and Chicago. I have another six hours before the bus will arrive in Chicago. I am traveling to Chicago to help a friend and current leather title holder with a special event to be held tonight in Chicago. I am excited to be traveling and participating in this event.
In cleaning up my email inbox I dug up an article on the topic of suicide. I meant to write more about this issue in my blog earlier this year than I ultimately did. An interesting article from a source I don’t usually consider all that impressive (USA Today) noted a recent World Health Organization study which estimates there is a suicide somewhere on the planet every 40 seconds. Yes, at least once a minute, on average, someone, somewhere commits suicide. It is perhaps one of the most tragic and most unseen of social problems. The article I referenced deems it a crisis. I would say death by suicide on such a persistent scale qualifies as a crisis. But what are we doing about it?
One of the challenges of addressing mental health issues is that the suffering of those with mental health problems is often not as easily made visible as that of physical illness. Cuts to the skin cause bleeding. Misaligned body parts reveal themselves in twisted gaits. Skin conditions may manifest in the form of rashes, blisters or worse. A woman named Sarah Clingan who was featured in the USA Today story articulates the distinction well: ‘One of the hardest things about mental illness is you can’t walk into a hospital and show them you’re broken.’ To explore the depths and contours of mental illness requires a certain skill and attentiveness that many in the general public all too often lack.
I thought about committing suicide when I was a kid. I thought about it many times. And I can clearly identify why I felt so desperate and alienated on occasion. I did not feel fully listened to or respected by the members of my paternal family of origin. My father’s siblings apparently thought it wasn’t an unwise idea for his then eight year old boy to be returned to his custody not long after his wife nearly succeeded at murdering him. How people, especially people who claim to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, can come to a conclusion with such significant implications for a child is still something that mystifies me. I survived my childhood though I had serious doubts that I would. I became an adult and went on to become a productive member of society.
Decades have passed since my original experience of the traumas that so upset me. I never committed suicide. I am an adult man. I have tried to be a person of integrity, kindness and compassion. And I have tried to be such a person while living in a society that all too often lacks such values. Indeed, I am confused and concerned by the direction the United States is headed.
The article I referenced above makes the salient point that research money focused on the issue of suicide is small in comparison to that allocated to other major health issues such as cancer. A close examination of the mortality figures for Americans bears this out. Despite the fact that gun violence continues to be a serious policy issue in this nation it is more likely that a person will kill himself than another person. Suicide is currently the nation’s 10th leading cause of death. It ranks as the second most common cause of death for those aged 15 to 34. Perhaps even more compelling is another statistic referenced in this same article: ‘Each suicide costs society about $1 million in medical and lost-work expenses and emotionally victimizes an average of 10 other people.’
Speaking only from my own personal experience I can directly identify the factors that have contributed to difficult states of mind which may then serve as a foundation for eventual suicidal ideation. I didn’t feel listened to or respected on many occasions when I was a child. I didn’t feel my father respected me as a gay man when I first disclosed my sexuality to him. More recently, when I was quite ill in 2013, I found it more difficult to keep dark thoughts at bay because I had no real clarity regarding how long I might possibly remain ill. Unexplained illness can be a terrifying thing.
I do not profess to have all the pieces of the puzzle that would help us as individuals, communities and nation-states to seriously address the tragic crisis that is the phenomenon of suicide. But I do have at least one piece I can offer. Take time to listen to those who are suffering. Try to imagine what it must be like to live some of the lives people live in this world. And make an effort to understand that some people face incredible obstacles and that for some such is their daily life reality.
If you know someone in acute distress who has spoken of the possibility of suicide please consider referring them to a resource that will help them. Here is one:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255