It was reassuring to see an article in the NY Times titled, “US Suicide Rate Surges to a 30-Year High”. I hope that more articles such as this one will bring suicide and depression (as well as other mental illnesses) to the forefront of conversations by the public, mental health workers/doctors, and politicians.
As the article states, “The question of what has driven the increase (in the suicide rates) is unresolved, leaving experts to muse on the reasons.” While I appreciate the awareness that this article may bring forth, I question some of the reasons that they portray, and some that they have simply not mentioned.
While I would agree that the Great Depression may have triggered an increase in number of suicides, I think it is a stretch to depict “social and economic well-being among less educated white men…” as a key reason for the increased number of suicides. I believe putting blame on a poor economy takes away any responsibility of those who have a responsibility to stop, and hopefully reduce, this tragic trend. People such as politicians and mental health practitioners. There is no shortage of wealthy, well-known, successful men who have committed suicide. Robin Williams, Hunter Thompson, L’Wren Scott, Alexander McQueen, Don Cornelius, Gia Allemand, and David Foster Wallace, just to mention a diverse few. The list goes on and on.
Perhaps it is time to take a look at real reasons that may be impacting the increase in suicide rates, most of which we can all do something about. First, the stigma. There is a very real stigma around mental illness. This stigma perpetuates the feelings of shame that those with depression and other mental illnesses are already too often drowning in. There needs to be large, pervasive public awareness campaigns to promote a better understanding of mental illness for all. If people had a better understanding of mental illness, fewer people would shy away from conversations regarding the topic and more people would understand how to support those living with a mental illness.
In addition, we need to look at a mental health system that does little to support these most vulnerable people. It is ludicrous that there are clinics (even behavioral health clinics) that charge a fine for appointments missed by patients with a mental illness. By definition, many people with a mental illness struggle to get out of bed, let alone their house. There should be more collaboration with medical practitioners so that these very complicated diagnosis are not created after a very, one-time brief appointment with a patient suffering from a mental illness. The possible misdiagnosis often means an incorrect, and possibly damaging, regimen of medicines. There need to be more advocates working with the patients so that they understand the implications of the possible treatment plans. I have met several men who have gone through extensive Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT–one man who received this treatment up to three times a week for a year-long period) who now have other health issues that very well may be linked this course of therapy.
More research and policies should be established around mental health medicine. I have met many men who are taking three or four different medicines at a time to manage their depression. There is NO research on the medicine. How could that even be possible? There are no long-term studies on any health risks due to long-term use of these medications. Why is that? In addition, there is very little to no scientific evidence to the benefits of the medication. I am not opposed to medicine to manage mental illness. I simply believe that much more research and studies could be conducted.
Another issue that needs to be addressed, and addressed quickly, is the limited number of beds for patients who may need hospitalization. There are often times long wait lists to get support, particularly if the patient needs an in-patient program. I know of an adult who had to travel well outside of the city limits in order to find a facility with a bed. I also know of a middle school student who was suicidal and the parents had to wait three weeks for him to get a bed in a facility. I can only imagine how incredibly painful it must have been for the parents going to bed each night, hoping and praying that their son would be alive the next morning.
I realize that there are no easy answers. However, it should, by now, be abundantly clear that it is time to have serious conversations around mental illnesses and suicide prevention and awareness.
I encourage you to leave thoughts or comments to this (or any of my) blog post. Thank you.