When the suicide is someone you’ve never heard of


That’s how many people bothered to read a post I put up yesterday revealing a significant and unacceptable jump in the number of people taking their own lives in Minnesota.

Given the size of the NewsCut audience, that’s decidedly unimpressive. More than 100,000 have read about the Redwood Falls obituary.

Twitter? Let’s just say it didn’t trend.

The report, from the Centers for Disease Control, was meant to be a wake-up call to a society that could give a damn, but, like so many wake-up calls before it, we collectively shrugged.

Then Anthony Bourdain killed himself, and we started a familiar cycle of interest anew.

Appropriately, the news of his death is at the top of the news today. But why wasn’t yesterday’s CDC report? [NPR was an exception]

We work hard to shift the burden for a broken mental health system onto those who suffer.

When a famous person dies by suicide, we “remind” people to pick up the phone and call a hotline. “If he’d only reached out for help because help was available,” is a frequent refrain, as if people who suffer don’t know that and the disease doesn’t disable cognitive function. We need to do more than give out phone numbers.

What we rarely do is tell the story of what it’s like to ask for help and the difficulty of getting it, which is a shame because the perspective would reveal an unacceptable barrier, placed there with the consent of our inaction.

We create “anti-stigma” campaigns that send the message that (a) there is one, intensifying the perception of a connection between mental health and stigma and (b) puts the burden of overcoming it on those who suffer.

“We’ll provide access to affordable mental health care by getting rid of the stigma, first,” the strategy is. It’s a recipe for a long wait for a change in attitudes that needed to take place years ago, even if it’s better than doing nothing.

And the “if only he’d asked for help” message ignores the reality that “help” — as it’s currently provided — doesn’t work for everyone, and increases the sense of failure that sends people to a bridge, a pill bottle, or a gun.

But here’s the thing: People are and have been asking for help. And too often the answer — closing a crisis hotline, rejecting a mental health clinic in your town because you’re afraid of the impact on your children, cutting funding to clinics, or turning a wellness check into a SWAT shootout — is “no.”

We will now dissect the life of Anthony Bourdain, just as we inspected that of Kate Spade before him.

It is too late for both of them.

But it’s not too late for the people whose names you’ll never know, some of whom will be successful this week in their suicide.

All we have to do is wake up, and refocus the discussion from “what was wrong with them?” to “what is wrong with us?”

Resources: How to get help in Minnesota (MPR News)

Related: I Know The Devastation Suicide Leaves Behind. I Wish I Didn’t (WBUR)

Archive: Why Robin Williams’ death has hit us so hard (NewsCut)

Archive: Bad State of Mind (MPR News)

  • crystals

    As one of the 530 yesterday who just didn’t know what to say, thank you.

  • >>All we have to do is wake up, and refocus the discussion from “what’s wrong with them?” to “what’s wrong with us?”<<

    I have a feeling that until our politicians can get "big money" from those providing help for those with mental illness, nothing will change (as usual).

  • KariBemidji

    This is one of the ways that reading NewsCut makes me a better person. Thank you Bob for giving me better words to use and opening my eyes, brain and heart to mental illness.

  • Andy K.

    Well written, Bob.

  • chlost

    I read the article yesterday. It feels as though I continue to pound my head against a brick wall. I hope someday someone with more power than I have in this world will finally break through those bricks. I’m not making much progress over here. And I am getting old and tired, while my clients just keep getting younger and more sad each day.

  • wjc

    Unfortunately, this topic has a lot in common with the mass shooting issue. A lot of fury and angst and talk after another high-profile event, and then crickets.

    Nothing is going to improve concerning suicide prevention until we have 1) a proper health care system that covers everyone without fear of financial ruin, and 2) mental health care is equally covered.

    We have enough money in this country to do this, but we are spending it on the wrong things.

    • Ben Chorn

      I saw this comment on Reddit yesterday about the homeless problem in Seattle area, and it has similarities to this- non-profits spending money on a ‘problem’ but without a real solution. People want to help without having any direction of how or what to do.

      (language warning for the post)


      • wjc

        But when it comes to mental health, I think there is clearly a direction to make improvements, if not a complete solution. It’s not like we are unclear about what will help. The problem (at least to a significant extent) is access to and the out of pocket cost of mental health care. Oh, and the stigma associated with it.

        • Sonny T

          Preventing access is deliberate. It’s called a deductible.

      • People who say we don’t know what to do are either uninformed or intentionally distracting from the solutions.

        As NAMI’s slogan says, “we know what works.”

  • BJ

    >I don’t think the problem is the mental health care system.

    Until you have tried to use our mental health care system I don’t think you can make this statement. The stories about lack of facilities (and some degree staff) are too numerous to even begin to say how wrong that first sentence is.

    • Kat S.

      Our mental health care system is a disaster. I do think the lack of understanding helps contribute to the problem…often because it makes people think we don’t need more facilities just more de-stignatizing.

    • He’s trolling. Ignore.

      • chlost

        Frank may have a point on this. The judgmental culture could play into this in a couple of ways. One, in that folks who are suffering are worried about being judged negatively if they seek help. But second, and even more importantly, the dearth of mental health services could be a result of our society’s judgment that these services aren’t important enough to fund, or that folks who need them should just “buck up and get over it”. Those negative attitudes toward mental illness and treatment are pervasive in many areas, including Minnesota, land of Mayo.

        • Jim in RF

          I agree. Stigma is too soft of a word.

    • Jeff

      I have to think this is much more complicated than just fixing the mental health system. Even if we had a perfect mental health system with access for everyone, I wonder if it wouldn’t make a huge difference. I think it’s only part of helping with the problem. This article: https://www.wnyc.org/story/30-issues-if-you-needed-mental-healthcare/ looks at the suicide rate in various countries and their approach. Japan while having universal health coverage has poor mental healthcare access and it’s stigmatized sort of like here.

      • // more complicated than just fixing the mental health system

        Nobody ever said all that has to be done is fixing the mental health system.

        However, being able to get effective treatment as quickly as you could if you broke a leg, for example, is obviously a proper , important, and likely most effective step we can take, aside from continuing to stress to your loved one that you love them and your life would be immeasurably damaged if they were to leave.

        We just have to put as much energy into taking these step as we do in making excuses why we don’t.

  • Rob

    Define “losers.”

    • I understand the point FB is trying to make, the term “losers” is a bit clumsy though.

      • Jerry

        People who feel like, or consider themselves losers is probably a better way of putting it.

      • Rob

        Point comprehended. Charged usage of term gets thumbs down.

    • Sonny T

      In Frank’s defense (and with all due respect to Bob) I see no problem with Frank’s use of “loser”. It is clear from his post he is in no way using it as a pejorative, but rather as the way society views those who are different.

      • Again, just as the anti-stigma campaigns do, it reinforces what you claim to be an incorrect societal view.

        So maybe refer to people the way they should be referred to and we can all do our little part today.

        • Sonny T

          The Group will never accept the Outsider. This is not meant to be harsh, and it is something we can and should rise above. Also, don’t allow the Group, whoever they might be, to label you.

          My point was Frank used the word “loser” the way the Group would use it.

          • My point was spreading such a word makes you part of the “Group”

            don’t be part of the Group.

          • Kellpa07

            Can’t solve the problem if you cannot point it out.

          • Rob

            Spoken as a member of the Group, or as an Outsider?

          • People have been “pointing it out” for years. It’s not working.

            In many ways, we create and perpetuate the stigma by “pointing it out.”

            Now, it’s just a crutch to make people feel as though they’re doing something. It’s little more than changing an avatar now.

      • Rob

        The fact that you don’t see his use of the term as a problem, is a problem.

  • Guest

    “One death is a tragedy, 10,0000 deaths is a statistic.” some Nazi leader.

    • John O.

      Actually, it was Joe Stalin.

  • When you call people with mental illness “losers”, you’re trolling. So, stop. Be smarter. Or be gone.

  • AL287

    There is a lot wrong with “us.”

    There are far too many Americans who are of the mistaken belief that depressed people can snap out of it if they just try hard enough.

    Even with all the latest medications, electroconvulsive therapy, etc. there are still 10-30% of the approximately 40,000,000 Americans with depression who do not respond to treatment.

    I’m sure many of them see suicide as the only escape from the dark cloud of hopelessness and despair that hangs over their daily existence like a suffocating shroud.

    We can do better.

    We must do better.

  • Mike

    Do we know why Bourdain killed himself? I ask because it’s relevant. Although I completely support more and better mental healthcare for everyone, I also believe in the right of any person to end it when and how they see fit.

    Whenever I read about the suicide of an older person like Bourdain (or Kate Spade, for that matter), I always wonder if there was an adverse medical diagnosis that preceded it.

    • BJ

      > older person like Bourdain

      Bourdain was 61, Kate Spade was 55

      I guess I’m getting old because neither of those seem like ‘older person’ to me.

      > adverse medical diagnosis

      From what I read depression, for years, in Kate’s case. I don’t know about Bourdain, but I would guess the same, his book detailed heavy drinking and drug use.

      • Mike

        50s and 60s are plenty old enough for terrible and/or chronic medical conditions to set in. The idea that we’re all meant to live to a robust 100 is largely a fiction that has been fostered by modern medicine.

        • Rob

          Yup. The actuarial tables don’t lie. People in their 60s, such as moi, are not middle-aged; we is old.

      • Jerry

        Depression and suicide very rarely has anything to do with external causes. It is all about internal feelings of worthlessness.

  • Jerry

    I think the Catholic attitude towards suicide as a mortal sin, versus the traditional Japanese attitude of suicide as honorable is probably the biggest difference.

  • BJ

    Or that third world countries don’t track suicides the same.

  • Bridget L.

    There is sooo much more to it than people think themselves as “losers”. I have a very high opinion of myself but there are a lot of days where I am convinced I’m not worthy of living. But I also don’t feel isolated, I don’t feel alone, and those thoughts have never gotten to the point that I couldn’t ignore them anymore.

  • Jim G

    One of the tragedies in our family is the suicide of my sister’s husband in his 30’s. The wreckage created by his death echoes through the decades affecting everyone who loved him, especially his daughter now older than he was. He hid his pain until it exploded all over us. Depressed? Anxious? Addicted? Don’t hide it anymore.

  • JD

    Thank you for this piece. My family has been affected by suicide and attempted suicide.

    You are so right, it’s not as easy as it sounds. When struggling with severe depression, one might only make it through with the support of a caring advocate to help them maneuver a convoluted system.

    I continue to question why celebrity suicide draws so much attention. And yes, people like to talk about the crisis yet action is lacking.

    • Carolie

      I think part of the “fascination” with or “draw” to celebrity suicide is they are people who appear to “be living the dream” with successful careers, financially sound, poplular, etc. If the current mental health system wasn’t adequate to meet their needs, what chance to those with similar illnesses living in poverty have? It’s real blow to the gut for those of us who have worked within the system as it is to the very best of our abilities… The trend is more than disheartening.

  • AsaP

    As another of the 530 that read the article, I ended up having a discussion about the statistics at a dinner party last night. We, as friends and family and coworkers of those that are struggling, have to be the ones to reach out and not expect anyone to ask for help in a way that we recognize and deem the efforts worthy. Most all of them have, in their own way, reached out and cried out dozens of times.

  • Nick Hansen

    Thanks for this, Bob.

  • Kathy Mayo

    —-We create “anti-stigma” campaigns that send the message that (a) there is one, intensifying the perception of a connection between mental health and stigma and (b) puts the burden of overcoming it on those who suffer.

    Thank you.

    The technique of negating a negative in order to express that negative is well known, though I am not at all sure that everyone who employs it is aware of what they are doing. Much of its repetition is due to naiveté.

    I fear not all. One need not look far to see organizations that benefit from keeping the concept alive.

    Harold A Maio

  • Charlie Hurd

    More than 3/4 of suicides are by males. Would MPR please feature a story on this!?

  • lusophone

    You bring up a good point about Latin American countries.

  • It is always tough to hear news about trends going the wrong direction. But we can take heart in the fact that worldwide, suicide deaths have been declining. Further, among some age groups in the USA, there is a significant decline. The recent (relatively) rise interrupted a general trend of decline. For a bit more context on this problem, visit https://ourworldindata.org/suicide and https://ourworldindata.org/suicide#ihme-suicide-rates-by-age. The graph put out by the CDC does truncate the data somewhat, ignoring high rates in past decades. Reducing deaths by suicide could be more effective with a data-driven approach. It’s a challenging read, but this article is a start: https://www.centerforhealthjournalism.org/2014/09/09/preventing-suicide-all-wrong-ways

  • Beth-Ann Bloom

    Why do we send people to suicide help lines instead of to trained professionals who can look them in the eye? We don’t have cancer holines or heart attack holines “Reach out if you feel like you can’t breathe!” WE need to emphasize the health in mental health not the mental!

    • Well that’s the reality that never gets told consistently. It’s incredibly difficult to get in the door of a professional and you have no hope to if you’re on Medicaid. You go sit for 24 hours in the ER and maybe they’ll find a bed for you. But probably not.

    • slycivilian

      We are trying to do that. Part of the reason Crisis Connection closed was that it didn’t entirely fit the county based mobile crisis team model that MN uses. When it works (and I argue we are getting better all the time) it means timely help, in person, in a non-confrontational manner, keeping people out of the ER when they don’t need to be. https://mn.gov/dhs/crisis/

      • Sheri

        Except Dakota County tells you they won’t do anything to help unless you’re actively being murdered. Literally. At least 3 separate times I was told this. Carver County is done with you within 30-60 minutes and comes with a boat load of shaming and not a single ounce of support or kindness. I’m pretty sure it was Crisis Connection who said they wouldn’t talk to me unless I was actively preparing to kill myself, made me say what ways I was going to do it, then lied and said they weren’t sending the cops out to beat me again only to have the cops show up and lo and behold I was dragged across the room and threatened repeatedly – all because I called to BEG for help after being sexually assaulted in Dakota County housing and told by Residential Transitions (on-site ILS), the cops, Dakota County, and everyone else that I DESERVED to be sexually assaulted and that it was MY FAULT and to shut up about it. Did you know that if a woman is seen in her pajamas, especially near a bed, she’s SUPPOSED TO be raped to teach her a lesson? That’s what Steven at RTI explained to me. Crisis Connection agreed that it must have been my fault and to shut up already, because apparently there isn’t anyone in this state or country who actually cares enough to support or help, let alone defend disabled women after they’ve been put through absolute hell by every single person who is being paid to protect and help them.

        In this state it’s a far worse crime to have emotions about being threatened, harassed, stalked, beaten, sexually assaulted, raped, nearly murdered, abused, and neglected by any and everyone than it has ever been to be a perpetrator of such crimes. That’s the reality of having a wholly subjective legal system that believes certain people deserve harm just for existing with debilitating physical disabilities due to a genetic disorder and co-morbids. Dozens of people have purposefully harmed me for their own joy, and not a single one has ever even received harsh words from anyone, ever, for doing so.

  • Sheri

    I posted something similar (though in more detail) on facebook this afternoon. People I know are sitting there spewing the same drive-by false hope of if you do one thing or another you’ll immediately get help. These statements are even more harmful than not doing anything at all, and that says a lot.

    TL;DR Every single person out there spewing false hope about “help is out there” and “help is readily available” should be forced to stand still and endure multiple kinds of physical and mental violence for days to weeks on end without the opportunity to fight back and see how long it takes for them to break down and try to escape it. That’s what suicide becomes to those so abandoned by the healthcare community, the justice system, MN, and the USA and left with no other options to try to save themselves: it’s the last option to escape the harms.

    My back story: I’ve spent a lifetime enduring violence. I was abused and neglected as a child. I was bullied non-stop through school and even into college, so I got it at school and at home and no one would listen to me or help me. I’ve been repeatedly sexually harassed, assaulted, and raped – including nearly being murdered during one and another rape being committed by a cop who knew my relatives. Literally I can’t find anyone who cares about any of it; even after being sexually assaulted in county housing in retaliation for reporting severe code violations to the city and even though the on-site ILS company admitted it happened, the cops refused to allow me to file a report multiple times and their ‘investigation’ never included talking to me (only the half dozen or so males who literally profited off the attack). WSP police chief said they did nothing wrong, Dakota Cty said it’s impossible for a disabled woman to be sexually assaulted, DHS buried the complaints of me and 2 other women and a male witness who were all willing to testify, every single lawmaker from my state reps up through the governor’s office and my federal reps, and the MN AG have all refused to do anything or even have an ounce of empathy to do more than spend 30 seconds telling “That’s awful,” followed by “We won’t be able to help you.” I’ve called numerous sexual assault support companies and I’ve been turned away by every single one (SVC made appointments they never showed up to and ignored phone calls and emails until I posted on facebook, which brought a threat by the manager for doing so). I’ve made hundreds of phone calls in 4 years and I’ve found not a single person who is willing to do even 1 single action to help me. The biggest kicker: I have a genetic condition that even half the medical community doesn’t believe is real (even though there’s evidence of it going back 3500 years to Ancient Greece) with a list of co-morbids a mile long and I can’t get adequate medical care unless I can pay to go out-of-state (Mayo won’t give us appointments and even abused me when I had appointments before being diagnosed), which is impossible when on SSDI. I was scheduled for neurosurgery in Jan 2016, which was cancelled because medicare, medical assistance, and CADI all refused to pay for even basic post-op care (a PCA for 2 weeks) even though I was able to set up a free med flight home from Georgetown in DC for when I got out of the ICU. I’m currently being evaluated for vascular surgery and it’s expected I also need a 2nd neurosurgery. It’s so bad that I can’t even obtain medical care to save my life; doctors in ERs completely dismiss nearly all of us with this genetic condition due to chosen ignorance (aka self-imposed stupidity), and many of my organs aren’t working correctly – if at all – including my heart and lungs as of Dec 2016. With all of this, NO ONE CARES TO DO ANYTHING TO HELP.

    On top of that, I’ve been raped by a cop, beaten by cops twice since the assault in 2014 to shut me up (even when I moved to the opposite side of the twin cities after living in a motel for 5 months the cops have harassed and threatened me in my new home 5x since Feb 2016), and this last time in Feb 2018 it was the worst I’ve ever experience. I had called my old bank Oakdale Credit Union to ask questions about my credit card. They committed bank fraud, shut down my accounts because I’m disabled (they said the disabled don’t pay their bills, which is crap because I’ve never missed paying my credit card in the 19 years I’ve had it), then called the cops and falsified a report that I was taking pills to kill myself. The cops showed up, threatened me for a half hour (I have SEVERE PTSD, especially due to cops), broke down the door, beat me, dragged me (as I begged to not be raped again) to the local ER (who has already proven they’re incapable of empathy or compassion let alone valid medical practice) who dislocated multiple joints (a symptom of my genetic condition) as I screamed in pain, drugged me with multiple injections, stripped me in front of a random male lookie-loo standing in the hallway (they should be banned from ever working with rape victims in any capacity!), left me with out food or water or bathroom facilities for at least 20 hours, then when it was time to take me to HCMC I asked to finally use a bathroom where I promptly lost consciousness due to a medical condition they know I have as they literally LAUGHED while picking me up by the wrists and dropping me onto my head 2-3 more times! HCMC agreed it was a falsified report and there was absolutely no reason to hold me, send me home with any follow up, provide any actual care while in the hospital, or do anything more to me after they had already harmed me by not providing a walker to a disabled woman who had just had multiple weight-bearing joints dislocated and received her at least 7th concussion and had to have her knee x-ray’ed because there was a good chance it was broken (3.5 months later the site of the injections, my knee, and the concussed area of my brain are still seriously hurting – with no doctor willing to do anything to help). When I was sent home 5 days later, my phone had been turned off, my cat was struggling to survive, had to put back together a home they trashed (the front door is still busted and I can’t afford to get it fixed), and I could still photograph at least 25 bruises (a few had already faded). Literally there is no area of law that covers this extreme abuse or the sexual assault I went through 4 years ago; I’ve called a dozen lawyers and every legal aid in the state to be told by every one “call someone else.”. Hundreds of phone calls, dozens this year alone, are completely and totally ignored, at every level of government included.

    I’m saying all this to make a point: blaming the victim who can’t stand a life where laws are completely subjective and anyone can commit grave and terrible harms without a single person ever willing to do anything to help (there isn’t a therapist near me who deals with my issues, takes my insurance, and doesn’t have a super long wait list – if the wait list is even open) is the BIGGEST problem. I’ve spent my entire life being told it’s not only okay for me to be harmed, but it’s okay for me to be murdered and it won’t matter. I wanted to escape life by the time i was 6 years old and first tried to kill myself at 8 – yet no one noticed, cared, or helped even when I begged on hands and knees. I’ve spent the last nearly 20 years fighting to be worth enough to others to get help I need and nearly all of the time I’m turned away, shamed, or ignored. The suicide hotline told me “Well, I need to take IMPORTANT calls now. Bye.” When I tried to check myself in years ago I was told “This isn’t a vacation. You should leave.” I had to spend an hour convincing them I knew dozens of ways to kill myself; even then I was there for a few days then sent home without any help, and the last night they put a violent girl who was trying to rip the bed out of the floor (wonderful way to treat a patient who has severe PTSD from a lifetime of violence) into the room with me so the entire floor was kept awake, then Abbot denied access to advocates. The last therapist I had said I CHOSE to be disabled, because apparently having a genetic condition that affects every part and system of your body is a choice not the effect of bad DNA. In about 4 years she didn’t do anything real to help me, and her treatment for the rapes and sexual assaults was “Now that you told me I own that and I’m locking it up in my drawer, so you don’t get to think about it anymore.” Give me a freaking break!

    There is a multitude of failures in MN when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable, which in turn makes us desperate to escape and after 7 moves since late 2007 when I moved to MN (16 since summer 1999) I’ve desperately attempted to escape time and time again, only to fail because once someone gets away with committing violence against a vulnerable person they won’t stop if they can find that person again. When it’s a cop(s), you’re straight-up screwed because they’re incapable of empathy towards the most vulnerable of victims! When there’s nowhere else to escape to, what is someone in extreme pain, lacking in access to necessary medical care, who has been completely abandoned by the justice system and every single lawmaker in the state, who has zero support system, and who is incapable of fighting back against the next attacker and the one after that and the one after that, where else can you go when you can’t even live in your car to be constantly on the move?

    I was angry earlier this week from the response to Kate Spade. Today I’m downright furious/livid/explosively angry to the point of screaming and crying because I’m sick and tired of people telling me that the hell I’ve had to and am currently enduring is what I deserve, that it’s acceptable under the law, that no one is capable of giving a crap about worthless me, and that there’s help out there… but only if you’re worth enough to enough people to be able to access it. I’m more envious of those who have escaped their hell than I am sad for the loss. I should be dead 2 dozen times over (just as much from violence as from my own wants), yet all it leaves me with is more hell to add to the list of why not a single person is stepping up to say “She has rights, it’s illegal to commit violence against her, and you need to stop it.” Every person who says to me “I want to help” follows it with versions of “but I don’t want to put in effort” and every person who claims I matter doesn’t show it the instant their guilt for abandoning me fades.

  • slycivilian

    Thank you for all of these pieces, for caring about the people who our system fails. And thank you for including the “how to get help in MN” resource. “Just reach out” directed to the person in crisis is totally insufficient, but it is often the friends or family who can see the impending crisis who are in the place to call. And for them, knowing *they* are not alone is a big help.

  • Paul John Scott

    A few years back I raised the point in the Strib that anti-stigma campaigns aren’t enough, very salient, or effective according yo the literature, and it was not received very well by the advocacy lobby. So I appreciate your point (and frustration) that it is time for a more granular conversation about barriers to care. That said, I disagree that we know what works and would hope the focus expands as well to care models, since suicide rates are rising in the face of high useage of care. Either we are treating the wrong people (as Alan Frances said) or the treatment needs reworking. That conversation is still subject to a different sort of stigma.

    • I notice today NAMI MN doesn’t want to use “stigma” anymore. It wants to focus on “discrimination.” Much better.

  • Jenifer Martin

    Thank you, Bob for probably one of the most “real” articles on suicide. I work on the “front lines” so to speak in mental heatlh-I am not a licensed professional, yet it is not uncommon for me to talk with people about suicide and suicidal thoughts. I have some observations about the mental health system that seem to create barriers for people who are hurting and in need of help. One thing is that typically, we are trained to alert a licensed professional or 911 if someone tells us they have suicidal thoughts, along with what’s called method and intent-meaning a way to complete suicide along with a serious desire to do so. What happens often is that the message is one MUST present with these in order to be even considered for a mental health bed, which, as we know, are not always available. In addition, the more subtle messages are that we shuffle people who talk about suicide off to another agency, such as hospital, and give the impression that we do not want to talk about it. There is a fear of liability that often accompanies any discussion with a client related to suicide. “What if I get it wrong?!” We are often schooled that there are other, more experienced (licensed) professionals who should take care of this-unfortunately accessing these people in an emergency or crisis situation is extremely difficult. There is an invasion of privacy in that the person attempting to talk about suicide with most mental health professionals (licensed or otherwise) is subject to being “reported” to agencies/hospitals, losing control of what services they are seeking or see as the ones most suited to what they need.
    Getting down to the nut of what I’ve seen in my experiences, both personally and in my work life, is that what is really needed, what really works, is time and awareness: the ability for a mental health worker (or friend, family member, etc) to be available to spend time talking with a person struggling with suicidal thoughts. The gift of letting that struggling person know, you are there to LISTEN, that you are not afraid of talking about things like suicide, and that you are not about to shuffle them off to some other person or agency unless they are ready to do that or that they truly are in imminent danger. And awareness-check in with people who seem like they might be struggling. Often just letting someone know you’ve noticed some changes and care about them can open a door.
    Another thing to consider is that there is no “them”. These thoughts are not completely foreign to most of us to some degree. We’ve all shared in this struggle, and being able to openly share these thoughts and experiences without fear or judgment is critical. Speaking from my own experience however, I know that saying something like “I just don’t see the point of living” would trigger panic responses with most people. But what I really would like to hear is: “tell me more about that, what do you mean?” and: “what would you like me to do to help?” Miracle of miracles would be a person who said “I get that. I’ve felt that way, too.” When my own son (who was 15 at the time) survived 2 of his own suicide attempts, we had many of those conversations in the years that followed. That’s right, years. There was much to be processed and considered and I am so, so grateful that we were able to do that, and still do from time to time. And let me tell, you the prevailing opinions of friends and family was that we should NOT speak so frequently on the subject. Even more tragically, I learned, as my son was recovering, that there were at least 3 other families in our small town of 5,000, who each had a teenager who’d made an attempt yet nothing was done at all, it was being chalked up as a “phase”. This included the ED doc who took care of my kid.
    There ARE good resources out there. Learn about them. But please, consider yourselves a resource for others as well. Many of us have trained in CPR and first aid as a matter of work or even out of a sense of civic duty, in order to be prepared in some way, albeit basic, to save the life of another. Consider you may one day be presented with a loved one, or even a complete stranger, who is considering suicide. What will you say?
    Thanks again for the article, and for lending the space for discussion.