Between the time I was asked to write this post and the date that you are reading it, a young and promising life ended by suicide in my community. Such a tragic event shocks the life of a parent, a family, a school, and a community in ways that are yet to be felt. The questions are endless: how could this happen? How did I not see this coming? Is there someone or something to blame? How do I cope with this? And very importantly, how can we keep this from happening again?
The status of suicide prevention in my home state of Tennessee is improving but still markedly high according to the 2012 report released by the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network. Tennessee’s 932 deaths by suicide, a rate of 14.7 per 100,000, calculated in 2010, represent a downward trend, yet it is still above the national average. According to the report, accessible at the link above, Tennessee ranked 9th in the nation in 2008, the last year for which there is a state-by-state comparison.
Suicide’s causes have been characterized in many ways. A person that commits suicide must have been depressed. He was bullied. She was desperate. He was mentally ill or “not in his right mind.” She made an unfortunate but personal decision to commit suicide. More support or less oppression would have prevented him from killing himself.
What would be the impact of learning more about suicide and its risk and protective factors? Consider that 54% of mass murders in one sample committed suicide after the homicides were completed or interrupted. In the case of Adam Lanza who perpetrated the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, there is much anecdotal evidence that he went largely unnoticed and unassociated with throughout his life. And the end result of this horrific murder was suicide. Assuming that the involvement of aware and knowledgeable supports prevents suicide, as asserted and promoted by programs like the ASIST suicide prevention training by LivingWorks, could not only one but 27 lives have been saved that day?
At this point, the following questions are on my mind concerning suicide and suicide prevention:
- Is suicide always the result of depression or a diagnosable mental illness?
- How do societal, race, and gender factors play into suicide risk
- Do the societal or mental health risk factors preclude suicide awareness or intervention being ultimately effective in preventing it?
- On whom does the responsibility for preventing suicide rest?
What do you think? Looking forward to your views in our debates @SWSCmedia.
Glen Gaugh (@glengaugh) is a licensed master social worker. He is the Rural West Tennessee Program Supervisor for Youth Villages Specialized Crisis Services, which serves youths age 18 and younger who are in acute psychiatric crisis. Glen also has his own blog.
Join & share your views, experiences, and insights as we explore these and other relevant questions in @SWSCmedia Twitter debate on 30 January at 8:00 PM EST / 5:00 PM PST.