Sharon Raggio: Celebrate the courage to live
This week new information was released about the steady increase in suicide across our country. Suicides have increased significantly, and I know we all are concerned.
There are many great suicide awareness campaigns and prevention methods currently being deployed in Colorado, and yet my observation is that we are not making a consistent dent in these numbers. In fact, suicide is almost becoming “a thing” and being normalized.
Suicide is not normal but depression is and having periods of time when you experience poor mental health is normal, but suicide is not normal. It is a permanent solution to temporary problems, and it seems the contagion effect is more powerful than ever. A recent study I read noted that the suicide rate statistically increases following celebrity suicides, and we recently have had two celebrities complete suicide.
I ask myself why we are experiencing this? I well know the root cause of suicide is as complicated as we are human, and we are unable to really define a specific singular root cause. We also know treatment works and mental health therapies are proven and effective. So why is this happening?
The answer I keep coming back to is that suicide and feeling suicidal are full of stigma and shame. We have contagion effects for people who complete suicide, and we read about their stories or we hear from our friends or family about their lives leading up to the completion.
What we do not hear enough about are the stories of people who have thought of suicide — seriously experienced suicide thoughts and feelings — and somehow, someway found a different path. I wish as a society we would honor these people as heroes. There is much heroism in fighting one’s demons and coming out on the other side.
There are studies indicating 50 to 80 percent of Americans have considered suicide in their lifetime, yet very few of us ever speak about that time and how we found a different path. My wish is that we make that heroism a contagion factor, so that the courage to live through a dark time is celebrated as opposed to only celebrating the live after a completed suicide.
We simply do not speak of our dark times and the courage it takes to live through them. I wish that were more of “a thing” and more normalized.
When I speak with people who have experienced suicidal thoughts and feelings and who have found a different path, the singular theme I hear is that there was a caring person who intervened.
One person told me a friend suggested they go on a hike first, and then if she still wanted to complete suicide, she could do so. After the hike, the friend suggested they grab a bite to eat, then to go to a movie — all the while postponing a decision. The woman said her friend made her realize she, in fact, had other options in life and this gave her hope.
Another person retold a conversations with a woman who lost her son to suicide many years ago. Hearing the pain that was still present allowed him to think of how his parents would feel and allowed him to make a different choice.
We live in a time where suicide is more and more common. I urge us all to fight against that trend. Help is available and treatment works. I urge us all to take the stigma and shame out of suicide and to be a caring friend to other who may be in pain. Be a contagion for life.
Mind Springs Health and West Springs Hospital president and CEO
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