It is rare to go a day without seeing a story that includes death, be it from terrorism, war, or murder. Yet recent statistics from the World Health Organization state that suicide kills more people worldwide each year than homicide and war combined. Suicide claims the lives of more than 44,193 Americans every year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In Santa Barbara County alone, suicide is the second leading cause of all injury deaths. Although suicide is a worldwide public health epidemic, it’s not a frequent topic of community conversation.
Hidden behind the stigma often associated with mental illness and the labels of “private” and “taboo,” suicide is a quiet killer, seldom discussed as the public health crisis it is. This silence is deadly. Suicide can be prevented, and it must be addressed in our community.
This conversation is of vital importance if we hope to deter this growing epidemic. And the dialogue needs to be based on current expert knowledge and be nonsensational, although, the CDC reports, suicide has increased by 24 percent over the last 15 years.
Suicide’s victims consist of those whose psychological suffering has outgrown their capacity to cope. This intense emotional struggle is not only felt by the thousands whose lives are prematurely lost to suicide, but it impacts the lives of families and friends, who must learn to survive with their own feelings of guilt, turmoil, and anguish over the loss of a loved one.
Studies show that 60-90 percent of all suicidal behaviors are associated with some form of mental illness and/or substance abuse. Too often, the misconception that addictions and suicidal tendencies are moral failings and that individuals are fully capable of controlling these behaviors have obstructed access to treatment.
This misconception has perpetrated the secrecy and shame that often accompanies those affected by suicide. Ignoring or hiding these issues is an injustice to the victims and a disservice to the survivors.
Most of us accept suffering as a universal aspect of the human condition and have dealt with our own share of emotional difficulties. We should use this knowledge not to hide behind a feeling of helplessness or dismissal but to access our own compassion and offer help to those in need.
Fortunately, help and treatment are available. Santa Barbara organizations such as the Glendon Association, a nonprofit psychological research and education organization, have worked hard in the efforts toward suicide prevention. Glendon offers our community valuable tools and knowledge on how to assist those who may be at-risk along with information about potential causes and treatment.
Any action that raises awareness is a movement toward saving a life. We can all do our part. We must learn to stop ignoring the things that cause us pain and fear. We must rise to the challenge of feeling for our fellow humans by offering the sort of compassion to the treatment of mental illness that we have demonstrated in the wake of such tragic events as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. In these moments of national devastation, we have forgotten our differences and unified under the umbrella of our common humanity. Giving value to human life means interfering with all forces of destruction, whether the external forces of violence and nature or the internal sufferings of the human mind.
To learn how you can help, attend these upcoming suicide awareness events:
Let’s Talk About Suicide Film screening and expert panel in English and Spanish. Wed., Sept. 6, 6:30pm. Goleta Valley Community Ctr., 5679 Hollister Ave.
Out of the Darkness Suicide Walk Begins 9am, Sun., Sept. 10. Leadbetter Beach.
Effectively Saving Lives Free webinar featuring Dr. John Draper, director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Broadcasts Wed., Sept. 13, 11am. Call the Glendon Association at 681-0415, email email@example.com, or visit glendon.org.
We can work together as a community to help prevent suicide. No matter what problem you are dealing with, the Santa Barbara Response Network can help you find a reason for living and provides a place to turn.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers trained counselors day and night
(800) 273-TALK (8255)
Santa Barbara County Crisis Response
For youth under 21: Santa Barbara County Safe Alternatives for Treating Youth (SAFTY) crisis line
For those who are affected by a traumatic event: The Santa Barbara Response Network offers counseling services
(805) 699-5608 | firstname.lastname@example.org
For family and friends, the first step is to know what to look for. Here are some warning signs that someone might be contemplating suicide:
• Disturbed sleep patterns
• Anxiety, agitation
• Extremely self-hating thoughts
• Feeling like they don’t belong
• Personal hopelessness
• Irritability and rage
• Feeling trapped
• Feeling that they are a burden to others
• Loss of interest in favorite activities; “nothing matters”
• Experiencing unbearable pain
• Preparing for suicide