Stayin’ Alive

No food or fancy pics today, just a few thoughts on National Suicide Prevention Month, which is now, National Suicide Prevention Week, which is now, and World Suicide Prevention Day, which was yesterday.

You think somebody’s trying to get us to pay attention?

It’s a subject I’m not unfamiliar with. There have been three suicides and one attempt in my extended family. There was one suicide in my boarding school, with at least one “copy cat” attempt after. My psychiatrist brother, who served three tours of duty in Iraq helping soldiers cope with PTSD, could, if asked, offer anecdotes about the numbers of troubled vets in our country who struggle with the issue.

But most people don’t ask, because, let’s face it, it’s not a topic that wafts easily around a dinner table. Some people are embarrassed to say the word or find the topic “too depressing” to discuss. Others seem to think that if you don’t mention it, it won’t happen. You could call that denial, given the numbers of suicides in our society. I call it plain dumb. It’s kind of like not talking about cancer on the grounds that silence will make it go away.

When really, the opposite is the case: the more a medical issue can be talked about, the more information gets out about how to prevent the thing and the less death-by-whatever we have. Think of the lives saved when the dangers of smoking and lack of seat belts became public awareness campaigns.

Getting the thing out in the open is especially helpful when it’s mental/emotional health we’re talking about. Isolation in that case is just plain deadly. There’s an old 12-step saying, “Your mind is a dangerous neighborhood: don’t go there alone.” If a person is suicidal or depressed, the last thing he/she needs is to be left alone with the swirl of negative thoughts which if not checked can keep spiraling ever downward.

While the opportunity to open up–to be noticed, to be heard–can be life-saving.

Yet our society tries to keep the topic bubble-wrapped in silence:more comfortable that way.

Twenty or so years ago, I spent two months out west in a center for the treatment of people dealing with extreme trauma of some kind or other. Most of us landed there because old childhood issues had finally caught up with us; some of us landed there after being termed suicidal. One night, I remember sitting around the supper table with a few others talking about suicide in the kind of open, black-humor way that doctors and social workers and others who cope daily with extreme stress often adopt. Until a staff member came along and told us not to.  Suicide wasn’t a topic for general conversation, he said. Save it for the therapy rooms. You don’t want to give people ideas, he said.

Hold on a minute. If the idea hadn’t entered at least several heads, that center would’ve  been a lot emptier–and poorer– than it was. Did even that professional not realize the relief of actually being able to share openly with others who understood the struggle from personal experience? Not realize the relief of not having to act like all was well?

So, people, let’s talk about it. Let’s quit being afraid that using the word “suicide” is going to make it happen. Let’s get past the embarrassment, and frankly, the selfishness of not wanting to hear about “depressing” things. Do we not get that it’s a whole lot more depressing to be left alone with the issue?

Not to mention dangerous.

Let’s say the word, and maybe save a life.

close up photography of purple petaled flower

Photo by Anthony on





3 thoughts on “Stayin’ Alive

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