In my last two posts, Back in the Dark House Again: The Recurrent Nature of Clinical Depression and Am I Having a Breakdown or Breakthrough? Further Reflections on a Depressive Relapse, I have shared my recent relapse into depression. Although it has been tough, when I wake up each morning I am grateful for one thing — I am not suicidal. Others are not as fortunate.
Recently, USA Today continued it’s remarkable series on America’s mental health crisis with an October 9, 2014 article, 40,000 Suicides Annually, Yet America Still Shrugs. It is a powerful piece. The article points out that although suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in America and the second leading cause of death in young people ages 15-34, funding for suicide research and prevention is pitifully low compared to the money spent on diseases such as prostrate cancer and HIV, which kill far less people.
But nowhere is the discrepancy greater than when comparing the money spent on suicide prevention with that spent on breast cancer. Breast cancer and suicide each kill about 40,000 people a year. Here in Portland, Oregon the Susan B. Komen walk for the cure attracts 40,000 walkers each September; yet the Out of Darkness suicide prevention walk, held three weeks later, attracts only 500 people. That means that eighty times more people publicly show their support for breast cancer research than for suicide prevention.
What is the cause of this disparity? I think it can be stated in one word — stigma. While positive publicity is given to women struggling with breast cancer, and rightfully so, suicide remains a taboo subject. I remember a member of my healing from depression support group who suffered from a serious depression and worked in the health care profession. One day, she came to group in a much better mood. When I asked her why she was feeling better, she smiled and told the group that she had just been diagnosed with cancer. Seeing the disbelieving looks of the group members, she explained that when she told her co-workers that she had cancer, people gave her lots of love and support. Yet for years she had not talked about her depression and despair for fear that people wouldn’t understand, or that her job would be in jeopardy.
However, when people do seek help for depression, the mental health system often tells then that they have “broken brains,” which can further reinforce feelings of helplessness that lead to suicidal thinking. In my case, all of my depressions have been situational—not caused by a defective brain or a sickness. The current depression I have been writing about in on this blog is a grief reaction, which is normal response to a relationship loss. If we can see sadness as a normal part of the human experience, then we can embrace it as a part of life and not “medicalize” the pain by jumping to prescribe antidepressants.
Lately the news has been dominated by coverage of the Ebola outbreak. Every time an individual in an American city is suspected of having Ebola, the person is quarantined and a major official assures the citizens that they are safe. Yet while only one person has died from Ebola in America over the past month, approximately 3,3000 individuals have taken their own lives. If we had marshaled the same kind of attention and resources to suicide prevention as we did for the Ebola threat, many of those lives could have been saved.
Which is a greater threat to public health in America — the Ebola virus or suicide? Which should Americans fear most? The answer is clear. Unfortunately, until suicide prevention becomes a high priority and moves into the spotlight like the Ebola virus, this preventable tragedy will continue to afflict us all.
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Things You Should Know About the Suicidal Mind:
More information about Douglas’s approach to finding alternatives to suicide pain be found at http://www.healingfromdepression.com/suicidal.htm
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.