Each year more than one million Americans attempt suicide, and approximately 45,000 will succeed. In fact, suicide is the tenth-leading cause of death in the United States. Over the past few years, the suicide rate has skyrocketed among youth, as well as those between the ages of 55 and 64. For many of us, the recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain brought the subject to light.

For more than six decades, this topic has been occupying my own mind, as I’ve lost a number of loved ones to suicide. But the most impactful loss occurred on Labor Day 1964 when I was ten years old. My parents were European immigrants who were working hard in their retail store in Brooklyn, New York, while my grandmother Regina stayed home to care for me. It was early in the morning when I went into her bedroom to ask if I could go to a friend’s house. She didn’t answer me. With a child’s intuition, I knew something was terribly wrong, so I phoned my parents at work. Before I knew it, they were headed into her bedroom, accompanied by paramedics.

Years later, I learned that she’d committed suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills. At the time, my mother told me that Grandma had been depressed because we’d taken our first family holiday and didn’t invite her. My mother never mentioned anything about having a conversation with my grandmother about her feelings or asking her if she needed help navigating her sense of worthlessness and depression.
While kids often take things in stride, looking back, I realize that being the one who’d found Grandma after she’d killed herself was daunting. What was more daunting is that I wasn’t allowed to mourn like the adults did. My parents sheltered me from the experience by shuttling me off to my aunt and uncle’s home while they attended to the details of my grandmother’s funeral. Back then, kids were more sheltered in these types of situations. In fact, it was thought that even a ten-year-old couldn’t understand the permanence of death.

The impact of losing my grandmother really only hit home many decades later when I was battling my own depression following a cancer diagnosis. I wondered if I would also succumb to suicide. Studies have shown that there is a suicide gene, and I continue to live in some degree of fear, but I hope that being mindful and seeking help when I need it will prevent that irreversible act.

The sad truth is that the Centers for Disease Control recently released a report stating that suicides are increasing at an alarming rate, and as a society, we all need to become more concerned. Most often, after we hear about a suicide, the question that most often rises is “Why?” While we’ll never know the exact reason why someone has chosen to take his or her life, we can speculate about the possible causes.

When studying my grandmother’s life, I learned that she was tormented by the demons of her childhood and being orphaned in World War I, but there are so many other reasons why people decide to end their lives, and they vary as much as the people committing this act. Some of the more common reasons include isolation, problems with relationships, job stressors, and illnesses.

One thing that has been determined is that the prevalence of mood disorders such as anxiety and depression are often precursors to suicide. Thus, early diagnosis of depression is crucial. There are those who view depression and anxiety as a normal side effect of living, but that’s not true. Sure, we all have our ups and downs, but if you notice someone who’s struggling, it’s important to recognize the symptoms and ask if you can help. One of the best ways to be of assistance to those who are depressed is to allow them to speak their minds. They might just need someone to talk to.

If you suspect that others are so depressed that they might take their lives, it’s okay to ask them if that’s what they’re contemplating, offer empathy and compassion, and then urge them to get in touch with professionals who can help them. As John Donne said, “No man is an island.”

Let’s keep reminding ourselves that suicide is a permanent solution to what is usually a temporary problem. Let’s help ourselves and others decrease the suicide statistics.

If you are or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please call 1-800-273-TALK.
You could be saving a life.

Author's Bio: 

Diana Raab, PhD, is a Santa Barbara writer and speaker who specializes in writing for healing and transformation. For more information visit, www.dianaraab.com