When I was 10 years old my grandmother committed suicide in her room next to mine. It was Labor Day weekend and my parents were at work. I knocked on her door and there was no answer. With a child's intuition I sensed that something was wrong so I phoned my parents at work. All I remember from that day is my grandmother being carried down the creaky wooden stairwell, strapped to a stretcher. I never saw her again and for many years never thought about that day until 2001 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and wondered if that's why she took her life by overdosing on Valium. Her death certificate did not say suicide and my parents never talked about how she died until the day I asked when I was a teenager.
That was 1964, but things are different today. Today, there is less stigma associated with depression and suicide, and there are less secrets and people are more apt to say what's on their mind. My grandmother was depressed because I was growing up and her role as a caretaker was slipping away. As I learned many years later when I found her journal, she was tormented by being orphaned during World War I. To bring my grandmother to life, I wrote Regina's Closet: Finding My Grandmother's Secret Journal and donated the proceeds to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I hoped she would have been proud that I wanted to help others who might have been contemplating suicide.
My grandmother took her life when she was 61. In less than two years I will be her age. I am aware that depression runs in families and I watch out for any slippage. But, unlike my grandmother, I have more resources for maintaining my mental health. I am an avid journal keeper and have a wonderful family and spiritual adviser who I speak to as needed.
Because there is more awareness and less stigma associated with suicide today, there are a lot more resources available for those who feel depressed or might be contemplating suicide. It's sad for me to read that in certain populations, suicide is on the rise. The latest statistics from the CDC from 2010, report suicide as the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, totaling 38,364 reported cases. Since 1999, there has been a 31 percent rise. It's important to keep in mind that some suicides might go unreported without direct evidence to 'prove' it.
In February of this year Forbes Magazine reported that suicide rates among U.S. Veterans has jumped, and that 22 vets commit suicide each day in the United States. Sadly, this translates into losing at least one Vet about every hour. Most of the reported suicides affected Vets over the age of 50. At one point it was reported that there are more suicides among active duty soldiers than those who are in not in combat. A very sad fact of life ending before it has even begun. In fact, 2012 marked an all time high in this area. Fortunately, hotlines and websites have been established to help more of these individuals and raise awareness.
Two other sectors of the population which have shown an increase in suicide rates are men in their 50s, probably secondary to loss of economic security, and teenagers. In the past decade, teen suicides have risen sharply. In fact, more teens die from suicide than car accidents. This is shocking. As the mother of three grown children and with a number of nephews and friends with teens, I find this number alarming.
When I was in nursing school in the early 1980s, we were told to always take depression and suicide threats seriously. However, because suicide has grown to almost epidemic proportions, people might not take what others say as seriously. Those who commit suicide are usually depressed before they take make the decision to take their lives. We should always be mindful of those who seem to be having a difficult time coping with life's stressors, or those who create stress for themselves. Life is about balance and it's good to help our loved ones establish a balance of work and play in their lives. The signs of potential suicide are sometimes similar to those of depression and in general, you should be alert to the following in your self and your loved ones:
S - Sleep disturbance
I - Isolation
G- Giving away possessions
N- No interest in anything
S - Seeing no future
Life is an ebb and flow of emotions. Here are some tips to keep us on track: Think less, feel more; frown less, smile more; talk less, accept more; watch less, do more; complain less, appreciate more; fear less, and love more.
If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, help is available by calling the National Suicide Lifeline. Trained counselors are available 24 hours a day to offer assistance --
800 273 TALK .
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