How do we Decrease the Rising Suicide Rates?

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How do we Decrease the Rising Suicide Rates?

Kyley Fishman, Editor/Reporter

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Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people in the United States and represents a significant public health crisis worldwide. The national response has been little more than a shrug, apart from a slightly raised awareness whenever celebrities – such as lead singer of the band Linkin Park, Chester Bennington, or renowned chef Anthony Bourdain – are tragically found dead by their own doing. The current situation of rising suicide rates needs to be confronted and to do so, we need to address the biology of suicide and understand what causes it.

The lack of empathy for those who are suicidal or have committed suicide creates a negative stigma. Today, many view suicide as being selfish, an easy way out, and to some, a sin, rather than a failure of proper help, acceptance, and understanding. The same goes for mental health disorders.

“People are afraid,” the Colorado Health Director Dr. Robert Werthwein said. “They’re afraid to speak up and say ‘I’m struggling with this mental health issue, I’m thinking about hurting myself’, they’re afraid they are going to be labeled… we have a long way to go before we can treat mental health the same way we treat physical health.”

In Colorado, websites have been released to target mental health, hoping to not just slow down the rates of suicides but to also help the person or persons suffering. Thanks to organizations such as the Colorado Crisis text line (text 38255), Below the Surface, Nami, In our own Voice
,and Ending the Silence, Colorado is helping combat stigma and bring mental illnesses out into the open.

Although Colorado and other states are doing their part, mental health is still the leading cause of suicides. Up to one in 10 people that are affected by mental illness attempt to take their lives.

In 2017, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention released statistics stating that each year, an estimated 5899 youth, aged 15-24, kill themselves, 90% of whom have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder. We can argue that this is a crisis of mental health care, that people are not getting the service they need; and that the proposed solutions are better therapies, more effective drugs, and more widespread access to medical treatment.

These are understandable solutions to the epidemic and they do help, however, even as more and more people seek treatment, suicide rates continue to increase. This is due to the lack of vigor some of us address towards it, and the negative stigma surrounding it.

If you ask the average teen to talk about theirs or others mental health, chances are they either don’t know too much or they are uncomfortable to talk about it. Considering the fact that one in five teens suffer from mental health, according to the Child Mind Institute, this absence of conversation becomes a problem.

“It’s one of those things you don’t want to bring up,” said Johnathon Webster, a sophomore at Glenwood Springs High School who suffers from severe anxiety/selective mutism, as well as bipolar depression. “I don’t want to make my parents less proud of me, and it relates to the stigma of it. Mental health and suicide are both like, say, smoking cigarettes. You don’t want to tell your parents but you know you should, so it’s just a constant internal battle. There’s no way to get help.”

In 2015, Mental Help released a survey questioning whether older generations and teens understand mental health. Breaking down the data, 63% of people 18-24 felt informed, and just 48% of those older than 55 felt the same way. Despite being the same group that rated themselves the least informed about mental health, individuals 55 and older are most likely to talk to friends and family about their own health, while 58% of respondents ages 18-24 are the least likely to do so. That alone is a head-scratcher. Why would teens feel so uncomfortable about talking to their own family?

In her study, Abera Mubarak along with Jimma University College of Health Sciences interviewed parents about their conceptions of mental health and their choice of treatments for it. An astounding 73.9% mentioned magic, curses, and sins were causes of mental health problems. These parents beliefs towards their children’s health would not only negatively impact their relationship with the child, but would also impact their behavior towards seeking help. Many, if they did decide to communicate with their parents about their struggles, were met with resistance or dismissal. Many thought that their child’s hyperactivity, anxiety, or depressive thoughts were instead just normal psychiatric issues in a child, instead of illnesses such as ADHD or depression.

“I feel alienated whenever I mention things,” said an anonymous student from Glenwood Springs who suffers from depression, anxiety, and ADHD, “I feel like a problem that they think is solvable. They think that because they’re older than me, they understand what’s going on, then refuse to see it a different way because they’re right. In reality, they just make me feel ashamed for even talking about it in the first place. It honestly just makes me feel more depressed and scared to say anything.”

Published in 2016, The University of Toronto, over a period of 1.7 years, collected data from 596,712 people worldwide, asking the question ‘Could Mental Health be Overcome’. An underwhelming 7% of respondents believed that it could be. The misconception of mental illness is continued to be seen when 15% of respondents also labeled people with a mental illness of either depression or anxiety to be a “burden to society”.

With these kinds of negativity, it’s no wonder that the stigma surrounding mental illnesses continues, and the lack of exaltation towards it is only increasing the rate of suicide for teens.

“There’s a stigma about having society accept you for no matter who you are,” said Dr. Werthwein, “Whether if you’re straight, gay, no matter what your race is, feeling ashamed is not a great thing to feel. It really drives people who feel like they can’t talk to their loved ones or friends or anyone really too dark thoughts. The more society is acceptable to people for who they are and what they have, the less we’ll see people driven towards feeling shame.”

It’s important to have an open relationship, not just with the child, but with the parents as well. It creates building blocks of trust, bonding, as well as making a family closer knit. By choosing to push away their own child, along with their struggles and opinions, it not only makes the person struggling struggle even more but also causes more problems to arise. A parent’s top priority should be the well-being of their child, no matter what their own viewpoints may be. This isn’t only the parent’s responsibility, but others as well. If someone says that they want to kill themselves, harm themselves, or want to talk about their mental health, the person they are choosing to counsel with should listen. One should not push them away and wipe the topic aside, pretending everything is ok when it really isn’t. It is a cry for help, even as little as it seems, and by brushing it aside, they are also telling that person that they are not important enough to be allowed to talk.

The fact that a person, who wants to talk and get help, has been reduced to a state of unimportance is unacceptable. By continuing the negativity and stubborn views of suicide and mental health, people are not only discriminating against acceptance but also disregarding it altogether. People should be able to live having the knowledge that their own friends and family will not turn against them for voicing their struggles, and frankly, that fact that many can’t is ridiculous.

The stigma around both mental health and suicide gets even more toxic and complicated when you throw Social Media into the already jumbled pile of issues.

Social Media is a relatively new phenomenon that has swept the world off its axis in the past decade. During the swift rise of technology, there was also another thing rising right along with it: suicides. The question as to why hasn’t yet been answered but a recent study does suggest one factor that is largely connected to social media use. As more and more posts on social media have been depicting people’s “perfect bodies” and “perfect lives”, these unrealistic standards begin to take a negative toll on a teen’s perception of themselves.

“I think a big part as to why suicide rates have increased so rapidly is social media,” said Webster. “We’re constantly surrounded by body standards that most of us can’t fit, along with people saying crude things. Sometimes people just don’t want to live in a world filled with so much hate and expectations.”

Although many know that images are both photoshopped and toned, the trends for body shape and images is still a thing isn’t only in females minds, but males as well.

“We need to understand that just because the tv shows and movies and magazines show perfect people and perfect lives, we don’t have perfect anything, “said Gabi Bartnik, a sophomore at Glenwood Springs High School. “We really just need to accept ours and others differences.”

Social media has also begun to romanticize suicide, an example that of Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why series. Research published by Jama International Medicine showed that Google searches relate to suicide (such as “how to commit suicide” “suicide hotline number” “teen suicide” etc) had increased, the most common being “how to kill yourself”. The suicide-focused show was blamed for more than five teens suicides/suicide attempts in 2017.

Intrusive thoughts and anxiety are normal human emotions. However, just like physical illness, mental illness can worsen if left untreated. There is no reason for a person who’s struggling to feel alone. People are, and always will be, different, and these differences are what truly bond us with each other and what will help create a better future.

By focusing not only on reducing negative standard in social media but also making both society and the home a more comfortable place to live and talk in, suicide rates and mental health will begin decreasing. Whether or not we personally have our own mental issues or suicidal thoughts, we can all be part of the fight that helps brings mental struggles more into the awareness.

Despite one’s best efforts, however, it won’t happen overnight, and people struggling with mental health will continue to face adversities. But the reality is, we are all subjected to being allowed to feel safe and accepted in our own skin. What a person struggles with does not label them, and as a society, we need to learn to accept and adapt. This is, after all, what humanity does best.

If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, please call:
1-800-273-8255
Or text:
38255

If you would like to raise money, speak of your own experiences, or learn more, go to:
Below the Surface
Nami
In Our Own Voice
Ending the Silence
I’m Alive

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