It has been twenty years since Connie put SUICIDE on my “radar” – October 22, 1997 – by taking her own life on that fateful day, and in some ways, it hasn’t gotten easier. I was reminded – again, of the devastation that is left behind when someone commits suicide. I lost a young friend (29) and brother to suicide, October 12, 2017. Connie left behind our family which will never be “whole” again, and he left his young, pregnant wife and three young children behind.
His wife told me that she felt like she had lost a piece of herself, and she did. I lost a piece of myself when Connie took the “easy-way-out“. We will never regain that lost piece, and nobody can ever “replace” that lost spouse. Why do we lose a piece of ourselves when we lose our spouse? We find that answer in the latter part of Genesis 2:24: “…the two shall become one flesh.” Marriage, as designed by God, is intended to be our deepest, most intimate human relationship. In becoming husband and wife, “one flesh“, we mirror the deep, intimate relationship within the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We see “unity in diversity“.
Sadly, suicide has become an epidemic in America. Another person takes their own life every twelve minutes, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and one out of five is a Veteran. He was a Veteran, a two-tour combat Veteran. He had uncontrolled and inadequately-treated PTSD. Not even his wife knew how badly he was doing and hurting.
Suicide always demands more questions than there are available answers, not the least of which is “WHY?”. In spite of having more answers than I had a few months ago, thanks to some things I found in my mom’s files, even they asked more questions than they gave answers. I now know that I was kept in the dark about some things, which my mom knew about, for over five years before Connie took her own life. Why wasn’t I told?
Why does suicide seem to “require” a scapegoat, someone to blame? Aren’t there enough questions already, besides wondering what “someone did wrong“? That seems particularly prevalent when that person was married, and so the most common scapegoat is their spouse. Why do families have to play the “blame-game“. Any time a person takes their own life, it is easy to believe that “someone” is to blame. WHY??? Did that “someone” “drop the ball“, “fail to read the signs“, or otherwise “not live up to expectations“? Were they “not as good a spouse as they should have been“? There are people who are still blaming me for Connie’s death twenty years later.
As if it isn’t bad enough that others want to blame us, the survivors, for our spouse’s suicide, we have the tendency to blame ourselves for their suicide. Weren’t we “good enough“? Did we “do something wrong“? Worse yet, “could we have done something to prevent their suicide?“, or, “how did we miss the signs?“… The problem with those lines of thinking is that WE ARE NOT MIND–READERS, and not every person who commits suicide “telegraphs” their intentions beforehand.
As a suicide survivor, and knowing other suicide survivors, I am appalled by how many people take their own lives every year. One of the problems is suicide is that it doesn’t just affect the person who took their own life, but it also affects their family and friends. With that in mind, let’s look at the statistics from the AFSP (https://afsp.org/):
* Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US.
* Each year, 44,193 Americans die by suicide. To expand on that, a person dies by suicide every twelve minutes, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
* It is estimated that twenty-five people attempt suicide for every people who actually takes their own life.
* On average, there are 121 suicides a day, of which 22 are Veterans, which means that we not only lose five people to suicide every hour, but almost one out of five is a Veteran.
* That means that 121 families and extended-families are bereft of their loved-one every day. How many people does that affect? Thousands per day? Millions per year?
* Firearms account for almost 50% of the suicides each year. The next most common methods were suffocation (including hangings) at 26.8% and poisoning at 15.4%.
* Men die by suicide 3.5x more often than women.
* White males accounted for 7 of 10 suicides in 2015.
* The rate of suicide is highest in middle age — white men in particular. “Mid-life crisis”?
* In 2015, the highest suicide rate (19.6%) was among adults between 45 and 64 years of age. The second highest rate (19.4%) occurred in those 85 years or older. Younger groups have had consistently lower suicide rates than middle-aged and older adults. In 2015, adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 24 had a suicide rate of 12.5%.
* In 2015, the highest U.S. suicide rate (15.1%) was among Whites and the second highest rate (12.6%) was among American Indians and Alaska Natives. Much lower and roughly similar rates were found among Asians and Pacific Islanders (6.4%), and Blacks (5.6%).
These are real people, not just numbers. In more tangible terms:
* We lose a community every day. I live in a community which probably doesn’t even have 121 people in it, so it would be wiped out, and then some.
* We lose a small town every week. There are many small towns that don’t even have 850 residents. They would be a total-loss.
* We lose 3,400 people to suicide every week, which is the equivalent of a modest-size town.
* Our annual losses to suicide would populate a small city.
When we think about those affected by suicide, we immediately think of their immediate-family; spouse, children, siblings, parents, etc., but we often forget that suicide affects far more people than that; church, extended-family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. Nobody takes their own life in a vacuum. When my wife took her own life, it affected nearly the entire community because she was a hometown-girl who was related to at least half of the town through marriage. It was no wonder the church was standing-room-only during her funeral.
We must not forget that suicide doesn’t just strike “secular-people“, “unbelievers“, it strikes Christians as well. My wife was a strong Christian and active in our church. My friend who committed suicide recently was a Christian, as was the pastor’s wife I mentioned in “The Faces Of Suicide“. Just because Christians should always have hope, doesn’t mean that they always HAVE hope. Nobody is immune to staring down that black-hole of hopelessness. Nobody…
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention PTSD. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder that can develop after a person is exposed to a traumatic event, such as sexual assault, warfare, traffic collisions, or other threats on a person’s life. While Veteran’s PTSD is the most recognized, we can’t leave out the PTSD our First Responders, Firefighters, Police, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and Search and Rescue (SAR) personnel face. Nobody who deals with trauma and death is immune to PTSD, but frequent debriefings do help lessen the effects of PTSD. I was in Search and Rescue for a dozen years, and I have been places, seen and done things I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Why? Because even if we were not able to “rescue” anyone, helping bring “closure” to their families DID matter. PTSD not only affects the person with PTSD, it affects all of their close relationships, particularly their spouse.
Is there more to say? Unfortunately there will always be more to say, because the problem of suicide is only getting worse, not better. I doubt that this is my final word on suicide, because as I learn more, I will pass on what I have learned in hopes of helping prevent even ONE suicide.
Are YOU available to help someone who is contemplating suicide? I am…