Suicides, December, Looking for Hope

You may have heard about tWitch/Stephen Boss’s death by suicide. Just 40 years old, famous for being on the Ellen DeGeneres show and on Dancing With the Stars. He leaves a wife and three young children behind.

I’ve heard recently about another death by suicide: someone who seemed to have it all: family, career, health. And a dear friend of mine—we had known each other since high school—was found dead in his apartment. I don’t know the details of his death, though I know he had been ill, had been lonely, had been depressed, and died alone.

Some research:

From the Center for Disease Control: Middle-aged adults (aged 35–64 years) account for almost half of all suicides in the United States. Suicide is the 9th leading cause of death for this age group.

Veterans, people who live in rural areas, sexual and gender minorities, middle-aged adults, and tribal populations may disproportionately experience factors linked to suicide. These factors include substance use, job or financial problems, relationship problems, physical or mental health problems, and/or easy access to lethal means.

From the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention:

In 2020, men died by suicide 3.88x more than women. Almost four times more men than women.

In 2020, there were an estimated 1.2 million suicide attempts in the U.S..

Covid has brought a variety of heartache to so many people, and we continue to feel its impact. From the World Health Organization: “As people grapple with Covid’s health, social and economic impacts, mental health has been widely affected. Plenty of us became more anxious; but for some COVID-19 has sparked or amplified much more serious mental health problems. A great number of people have reported psychological distress and symptoms of depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress. And there have been worrying signs of more widespread suicidal thoughts and behaviours, including among health care workers.” 

I’ve written many times about the impact of trauma in adoption, as well as the link with the gut and with race. I’ve written about the fact that an American Academy of Pediatrics study showed that adoptees are four times more likely to attempt suicide than non-adoptees. Our recent book, Lions Roaring Far From Home: an Anthology by Ethiopian Adoptees, is dedicated to Hana Williams and also to adoptees who died by suicide (eight are named in our Dedication). Several of the essays mention suicide.

It is a harsh reality.

And we cannot wring our hands and wish it were not so.

How to help? There are things we can all do.

Learn how to talk about suicide Asking someone if they are feeling suicidal is hard—and it can also make them feel less alone, give them a sense of relief that they can talk about it, and result in their getting needed help.

Check in on friends. So often folks seem successful and fine, and they may be: even so, take time to send a text or note or email.

Tell loved ones you love them. Tell them often. Let them know whenever you can.

Normalize tears and crying for men. Let (encourage even) men and boys to release their sorrows with tears. See that release as human and liberating.

Recognize the tyranny of social media and its impact on young people, especially. So many cruel comments. So many horrible news stories, of deaths and tragedy. We are deluged by cruelty. Give yourself a break from it, before it crushes your soul.

Learn the value of intentional breathing. Seriously. It helps with anxiety, and there is a lot of anxiety circulating these days. And share it with others.

December can be a very hard month. End of the year. In some places, the world is cold and gray, with little sun. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, there are so many messages about happy families, and going home for the holidays, and all the joys of Christmas. We are all supposed to be happy. Everyone else is happy. All those messages can conflict deeply with memories, traumaversaries, mental health, economic worries, health issues. There are strategies for dealing with the anniversaries of traumatic events, which can include holidays.

Learn about signs of suicide.

Share the 988 alternative to 911. 988 is “will route callers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (now known as the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline), and is now active across the United States.

When people call, text, or chat 988, they will be connected to trained counselors that are part of the existing Lifeline network. These trained counselors will listen, understand how their problems are affecting them, provide support, and connect them to resources if necessary.

The previous Lifeline phone number (1-800-273-8255) will always remain available to people in emotional distress or suicidal crisis.”

For survivors of suicide (those who have attempted, and those whose loved ones have died by suicide), there are resources here, here, and here.

Take good care of yourself too. You matter, and we want you to stay.

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