I Can’t Take It Anymore
Within less than one week, two icons within the rarified constellation of celebrity fame and wealth ended their lives in separate but no less tragic circumstances. While their families reel from the shock of the reality related to losing their loved ones, and their admirers mourn the loss of their great talents, the rest of us who deal with mental health issues on a daily basis become numb with a different kind of reality. At Auldern Academy, many of our students have experienced feelings of great despair at one point or another, and some almost to the breaking point. The National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that social isolation and feelings of loss increase the likelihood of suicide. If these two urbane, educated, successful, “happy” people couldn’t make it, if they felt lost or disconnected, what does that mean for our clients who lack the supports to which these folks, potentially, had access? What does it say to those who fight, often minute by minute, with excruciating emotional pain, who give up because they say they cannot “take it” anymore? Or, was it their fame, ironically, that made it difficult to get help without acknowledging their struggles? We cannot explain the inexplicable, and our hearts reach out in sympathy to their loved ones. But more importantly, we want everyone to pay attention, and whenever possible, to take action.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number two cause of death for children and adolescents after accidents/unintentional injuries is suicide, with more than 13 youth per day committing suicide. While statistically speaking, more males are likely to successfully complete an action to end their lives, more females than males undertake suicidal attempts. Among adolescents (those under the age of 18 years), almost twice as many females as males seriously contemplate suicidal action (about 22.4% for females vs. 11.6% for males). About 8% of the adolescent population have attempted suicide, with a higher number of females (about 10.6%) than males (about 5.4%) reported. Among all suicides, 77.9% are male. About 56.9% of males use firearms, while the most common method for women involves some type of poison (34.8%). These are grim and disturbing figures that underscore the seriousness and violence of suicide—a disturbing reality, indeed.
Socioeconomics worldwide do not “seem” to be a significant factor according to data collated by the World Health Organization (WHO), with higher rates of suicide reported in Japan (15.4%) than in the United States (12.6%). On the other hand, even WHO acknowledges that suicide may be viewed differently across countries and cultures, and therefore it is not reported by the same standards or definitions. So let us focus on facts within the US, as we do have some relevant data. Mental health issues are prevalent in about 90% of suicides according to WHO. Suicide makes up the single biggest reason for psychiatric hospitalization, with the single biggest factor being previous attempts. Suicide rates among Native American and Alaskan youth is about 1.5% higher than the national average, with suicidal thoughts, planning, and action also running higher among Hispanic youth when compared with non-Hispanic youth. Still, suicide rates among African American youth has nearly doubled between 1993 and 2012 according to the Megan Meier Foundation (MMF). Transgender youth are nearly three times as likely to experience suicidal thoughts and about five times as likely to take such actions than their heterosexual peers according to The Trevor Project. While this author could not track down specific data (possibly because of its “newer” nature), we hear more and more about bullying, especially cyberbullying, contributing to suicidal attempts and completed suicides. MMF reports that bullying of any type seems to increase suicidal thoughts (about 29% of those who experienced suicidal ideation reported frequent bullying) that potentially leads to suicidal actions. Hopelessness and helplessness, in other words, seems to be universal factors in many, if not most, suicide attempts and/or completed suicides.
With all of this negative information, what can we do? Frankly, we as a society can do a lot more than we are doing currently. So we pay attention to other facts. First, all parents “know” that early socialization is key to developing a child within a social circle. We get play dates, take them to religious services, put them in nursery schools or summer camps, etc. But then they go to school. If someone is isolated and we know this is a key contributor to suicide, then we need to make sure others are connected—and especially that others are not actively isolating their peers through bullying. For example, KiVa, an evidence-based program begun in Finland that has made its way to UCLA, is an active anti-bullying program that increases empathy development in children. Second, we must recognize mental health care as being just as crucial to our well-being as physical health care. The social stigma of mental illness continues to plague our society according to research and reports by the APA, AACAP, NAMI, NIMH, WHO, and the CDC. 1 in 5 Americans struggles with some form of mental health issues according to the Department of Health and Human Services, yet very few get help. It could be for fear of losing employment or for being seen as “weak”, but the reasons often appear to be rooted in ignorance about what a mental illness is—or is not. Third, not everyone can afford health care, and the reality is that things will not change until more care is made more widely available. The non-profit Social Solutions reports five main areas that must be addressed, including: financial barriers; lack of mental health care professionals; mental health education and awareness; the social stigma of mental health issues; and racial barriers to mental healthcare access.
As individuals, we cannot blame ourselves for the deaths of others when they complete a suicide. However, it is important to understand that we may be able to help someone before it is too late. The American Association of Suicidology posts a great deal of information as part of its mission to make suicide “everyone’s business”. If you or someone you love exhibits increased hopelessness, they sleep too much or not enough, are not taking care of their personal hygiene, are over or under eating, talk about wanting to die, withdraw from people and things they love, increase drug or alcohol use, express uncontrolled rage, give away prized possessions—these are signs that may be calls to action. You may contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-8255, Emergency services through 911, or a local therapist if you know or have one. If you are a teen, please reach out to a parent, a teacher, or a guidance counselor if you or someone you know is struggling—and don’t accept a “don’t worry” response. In any event, please do not wait. Let that person know that you care by your actions, even if they claim they do not want help. The good news is that the incidence of completed suicides decreases with age. So let’s keep our young people going. Let’s promote hope from “I can’t take it anymore” to “I don’t want to take it anymore—but I will, I’ll try.” And let’s help them get there by giving them the best mental health tools to do so.