There is a lot of evidence to suggest that many, if not most, suicide attempts come from untreated mental illness. The tragedy of the situation is that mental illness is largely treatable, with vast resources available to those who seek treatment. Yet many who struggle will not utilize these resources because doing so exposes them to the stigma surrounding mental illness. Suicide is not the death of the weak, it is the death of the terminally ill. Thankfully, efforts have been made to address the stigmas, and some progress has been made.
There is certainly a long way to go. Most popular among those who perpetuate mental health and suicide stigmas is the assumption that mental illness isn’t actually real. Disseminating information about the biological causes, contributing factors or processes is helping to make the elusive mental illness more concrete and therefore more credible but the conventional attitudes are still far reaching.
Examples of this dismissing attitude can be found in large supply. A speech given by President Obama earlier this summer in which he encouraged the nation to remove the embarrassment and shame from being legitimately and treatably ill was met with skepticism by a reporter named Neil Munro. First, he insinuated that depression and anxiety were not real mental illness issues instead referring to them as stress and sadness. Then, he followed up his assertion with his own advice, “Americans have typically responded to stress and sadness by urging stoicism, hard work, marriage, prayer and personal initiative, and by stigmatizing unemployment and passivity.”
His get-over-it mentality is not a unique one and the consequences are devastating to the many individuals who suffer with mental illness alone as a result of the humiliation forced upon them by these attitudes. Mental illnesses that culminate in suicide do not stem from a person being weak, they stem from a reluctance to ask for help and risk being exposed to further psychological pain from being shamed and disregarded by the ignorance of others.
Another example of how dismissive attitudes contribute to the suicide rate can be found in a recent study that showed adopted teens to be four times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers. The study cited many reasons for the elevated risk of this group, including inheriting genetic predispositions for certain illnesses and developmental problems stemming from attachment loss at an early age. Yet the common reaction to concerns raised by adoptive parents is that they are too reactive to a problem that might not be there. “Adoptive parents are sometimes viewed as overreporters,” said Dr. Margaret Keyes, the study’s lead author. She stresses the need for professionals to take adoptive parents’ concerns more seriously as, “they may be looking at a real phenomenon in their family.”
It is important to note that suicide is a conclusion to a complicated situation that can be traced back to many factors, but that not one of them include being weak or the failure of character in any other way. Suicide is a conclusion that could absolutely be avoided. There is help available and it is a loving act to the self to ask for it. There are a number of hotlines available for anyone who feels suicidal and needs someone to talk to. Veterans can call 1-800-273-8255. The national hotline number is 1-800-SUICIDE. Please take the time to call and be heard by compassionate people who understand that emotional suffering is real.
Written by: Vanessa Blanchard