Sad Statistics and Ending the Stigma

While I think that the media frenzy over the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman has reached a rather disgusting level, I have to contribute my own bit here. His death is sad and striking and shocking. I find it incredibly heartbreaking for his children. I know what it’s like to be the child of a person who died a stigmatized death. At least my father’s death wasn’t spread across every newspaper and website, analyzing alleged clandestine meetings with Brooklyn drug dealers and the stamps on glassine bags of heroin. While he didn’t commit suicide outright, he still died by his own hand. His children will have to grow up without their father and live with the knowledge that this terrible addiction took him from them. They will have to question what in his life led to that end and why he couldn’t just hold on for them. Other people will judge the way he died and what kind of person he was because of it. I know how that feels. 

I’m working on a supplement for a new introductory psychology book at the moment and this week I’m writing about psychological disorders. The chapter features a large infographic on suicide in the United States and I was shocked and saddened by what I read.

  • From 2000 to 2010 the suicide rate increased by nearly 20% from 10.4 deaths per 100,000 people to 12.1. (American Foundation for the Prevention of Suicide 2013)
  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for people aged 25-34. 
  • Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for people aged 15-24. (Both CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION, NATIONAL CENTER FOR INJURY PREVENTION AND CONTROL, 2010) 
  • In 2009 suicide was the leading cause of death from injury, exceeding homicide and traffic accidents. (Rockett et al., 2012) 

I had an idea of the suicide statistics in this country. Aside from working on psychology texts, I’ve researched it myself. This particular graphic put the stats together in a way that really brought the point home. It should be given out to everyone. How can it be ok that the 2nd leading cause of death overall for people aged 25-34 is suicide? The task of preventing suicide is beyond daunting. Even people who get help often can’t be saved. I’ve always thought that taking the stigma away from mental illness is one of the clearest answers and yet even I haven’t done my part in that fight. It took me ten years to tell one of my best friends how my father died. I still haven’t told many people close to me, though posting it here and consequently on facebook did a big part.

For the most part I’m very open about my use of medication to treat my anxiety and depression and I talk about my psychiatrist appointments. But I cringe when I do, even in front of my close friends and family. I still feel ashamed. I still feel like there is something wrong with me. That I’m somehow less than people who don’t have to go to therapy or take antidepressants. I’ve meant to take part in the Out of the Darkness walk since I found out about it 7 or 8 years ago and yet I have never signed up. I’m terrified to ask anyone to go with me for support. What if someone who didn’t know about my dad found out? I don’t want people to judge him or me. I want everyone to know that he had a sickness and that is why he died. I want to completely believe that myself. 

So here’s a little part of my fight. Right here on this page. Those statistics are real. Many of us fear our loved ones will die in a car accident. We fear assailants in the night. We worry about cancer and infections. We fail to recognize the danger of suicide. We hide the truth about ourselves and our loved ones so that we seem “all right” when maybe the parts that need work are what people really need to see. We tell ourselves that it’s none of our business when maybe asking how someone is doing could make all the difference. It can be difficult, and in fact sometimes impossible, to reach a person in the depths of depression, but it’s worth a try. People who kill themselves are not cowards. They are not lazy. They were sick and in pain and deserved every try at life, just as a cancer patient does. So here’s my start at helping to change the mindset. Won’t you help me by changing a bit?


17 responses

  1. Thank you for your honest and thoughtful post. I am sorry that you lost your father to suicide. I lost my 29 yr old son March 6, 2009. My father attempted in his early 20’s and I have had anxiety attacks for a long period of time, although, I am happy to say that now I do not experience them anymore. Our biological make-up can go awry at any time. People need to understand that it is an illness. Thank you for acknowledging that those who die this way are NOT cowards. The language surrounding this kind of death is astounding and disgraceful.

    Maybe we can make a difference. Blessing to you.

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Danielle. I didn’t know how your dad died, and applaud you for your bravery and willingness to share your experience towards breaking down the stigma surrounding mental illness. Hugs to you and those sweet babies of yours!

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  4. Even having worked in suicide intervention and having talked a number of people “down,” these statistics still floor me. I read the story of your father and could really feel your pain. I can’t even imagine. I hope that you find someone to support you in participating in that walk and that you can someday feel no longer worry what people might think. I have taken different medications at different points in my life because I have struggled with a mess of depression, anorexia/bulimia, and self-harm. I have even contemplated suicide (years and years ago, no worries now). I don’t tell everyone, but I’ve learned that those things don’t define me and if anyone does want to pass judgment, they can take a long walk off a short pier. I don’t know if my crass feeling on this issue helps you, but I hope it does!

    • It does. I’m taking more of that attitude myself. Thank you so much for the comment and the follow and I am super excited to have found your blog. Kerry over there at winding road is pretty amazing. I’m doing Freestyle Friday next week and I’m really nervous to follow you!

      • I’m glad! I’ve had a lot of practice with the “long walk” attitude so it can be easier for me than others. I know that saying that can be off-putting to some, but the truth is that people who don’t want to understand or off you grace are not worth your time.

        I’m excited that we found each other, as well. Freestyle Friday has served its purpose! Don’t be nervous, you’ve got skill and stories to tell, too!

  5. This is a wonderful message, Danielle…really moving, tearful, sad, scary and true. So many of us are ashamed of the issue(s) we may have. I have not lost anyone to suicide but mental illness and substance abuse run in my family and they have each taken away people important to me. I know we have talked before that I also struggle with anxiety…hence the intense need for yoga. But I take xanax before bed to help with insomnia. Just that sentence alone makes me nervous because nobody knows that. I’m slightly ashamed that I “need” anything in the pill form to help me when I try to lead such a natural and mentally healthy lifestyle. I think it is fear of identifying with what we are ashamed of that keeps us from being open. But the thing is, we are likely more identified with it by hiding it. I hope your message is seen by everyone who needs it. xo

    • I missed this comment somehow. Thank you so much. It’s such a complicated thing. It’s hard not to feel deficient in some way. I completely understand that feeling of shame for “needing” something. I often feel the same way myself. But I do believe being open can only serve to help.

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