If you are in crisis or would like to speak with someone, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1–800–273–8255 (TALK), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All calls are confidential. This service is available to anyone, including concerned friends or family. http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. You can also text the Crisis Text Line at 741741, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Earlier this month, within a week of each other, three celebrities passed away: Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, and Jackson Odell. Spade, an international couture handbag and fashion designer had been known to struggle with anxiety and depression for years. Bourdain, a five-star chef and international television personality, was in France filming his documentary series “Parts Unknown.” Both Spade and Bourdain reportedly committed suicide. Odell, a 20 year-old actor on the TV show “The Goldberg’s”, and previously, “iCarly”, was found unresponsive at a sober living home in California (at the time of this writing a cause of death had still not been reported for Odell).
At another glance, approximately 20 veterans commit suicide every day, but no one hears about it because this information is not widely shared publicly. In fact, veterans have a 22 percent higher risk for suicide than non U.S. veteran adults.
An epidemic is sweeping over America, and has been gaining steam for at least 20 years. There has long been a stigma in America, not only surrounding the sheer topic and discussion of mental health and mental illness, but more importantly, in seeking help or treatment while providing safe avenues to do so. Many organizations are available for individuals to find help, but the ease and assumed confidentiality concerns often deter those who question where and how to get help. One stigma exists in what I just said: confidentiality. All inquiries, sessions, treatments, etc. are strictly confidential, but many aren’t aware of this because no open dialogue exists in America to discuss mental health, and quite simply, many communities don’t trust “the system” and we can’t blame them (reminder: the Tuskegee Study). Therefore one might believe they are better off to fend for themselves. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make the matter any better.
There is a higher degree of stigma within different ethnic groups. Death rates by suicide in 2014 in American Indian or Alaskan Native groups doubled what they were in 1999, and rates have increased for all ethnic groups and genders, including: the Hispanic population, Asian or Pacific Islander, non-Hispanic White, and non-Hispanic Black groups. Adolescent and young adult mental health has increased exponentially in recent years. Ten percent of college freshman report they frequently feel depressed; between 6-8 percent of college students have suicidal thoughts, and 1-2 percent of students attempt suicide each year.
Mental health is a public health concern. In 1999, the U.S. Surgeon General, David Satcher, labeled the mental health stigma as possibly the largest barrier to seeking and receiving mental health care. In fact, the Surgeon General went as far as saying “mental illness is the second leading cause of disability and premature mortality.” For the Surgeon General of the United States to make this proclamation in 1999 meant that something is terribly wrong. Today is 2018, and it hasn’t gotten any better over the last 19 years. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, operated by the National Institutes of Health, the most recent data from 2016 shows suicide to be the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, claiming nearly 45,000 lives. In 2016, there were twice as many suicides in the United States (44,965) as homicides (19,362), and these are only the numbers reflecting where death certificates were issued. So, you’re telling me these numbers are higher? If this doesn’t terrify you, I don’t know what will. To know that practically 45,000 individuals claimed their own lives in 2016 and thought there wasn’t an outlet to seek help or get treatment proves that our healthcare system, our nation’s leaders, and the overall stigma of having a mental health concern or illness are true barriers to getting the help and treatment everyone deserves and is entitled to.
These harrowing statistics are exactly why the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number and Crisis text number are listed at the top of this article; if someone is in crisis or needs to speak with someone, that information MUST be readily available and not solely at the bottom of an article (although it is provided there as well). A person in need or crisis will not waste their time going on a wild goose chase to find information to save their life if they want to end it now.
Everyone wants to blame someone else as to whose fault this is, why the issue has gotten worse, or which physicians aren’t asking the right questions. I’m going to tell you that this is not one person, medical professional, or a single populations’ fault; we are all responsible. We pretend these issues doesn’t exist, hope the angry person at the coffee shop takes a “chill pill” and gets the help they need, attribute a coworkers sadness or loneliness to work issues or to the boss that never let’s up and pushes harder, or look the other way when national organizations like NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) receive less funding to the tone of millions of dollars annually. Because of this, there shouldn’t be any wonder as to why, as a nation, we are struggling to support those in desperate need.
Therefore, how can we make this better? How can America show her citizens that she honestly cares about them, and how can America sit at the table with her foreign counterparts and say that she too cares about mental health? For starters, we must have these conversations openly and regularly. No more hiding in the shadows and pretending mental health is a figment of our imagination. Physicians, health systems, and the general population must be willing to ask the right questions and provide the necessary feedback and referrals when they receive honest answers. Citizens need to take a stand and bring these issues and potential solutions to their local representatives, whether it be to the County Council and County Executive, or on a larger scale, including state Delegates, Representatives, Senators, and Congressman. In addition to the National outlets, local organizations need to be willing to provide help, or at least be able to contact the correct organizations that far too many people require. If someone has come to you but you need to contact a more appropriate business, keep the person in need in your office and let them speak with a professional. No one should be turned away; there should be no “wrong door” policy. Something as simple as speaking to a professional over the phone and making an appointmnet could possibly change that person’s outcome. Mental health facilities and services should be advertised, not kept in secret. Marketing and outreach for those services and organizations need to be readily available, visible, inviting, and translated into languages commonly found in the communities (e.g. Spanish, French, Korean, etc.).
Without these changes and many others like them, we will only continue to circle the drain, falter, and continue to be shocked and surprised when the next 10 year old commits suicide because they were bullied at school, or the next international celebrity makes the morning news because they’ve taken their own life. It’s not going to be easy, and we are spiraling at a rapid pace, but we have to make this better. In fact, we can easily correct our errors. These conversations aren’t scary. People won’t want to discuss their concerns openly with the public, but you don’t need a town hall meeting to discuss this topic. Offering a helping hand and a smile shows trust and bona fide good will that can make a difference. Starting the conversation with your loved ones or with your physician can be the difference between life and death. For the health of the nation, let us take a stand, bow our head and correct our mistakes, and break out from the stigma we may have accidentally created for ourselves.
If you are in crisis or would like to speak with someone, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1–800–273–8255 (TALK), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All calls are confidential. This service is available to anyone. http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. You can also text the Crisis Text Line at 741741, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.