I am grateful that suicide has not touched my life. Except for an acquaintance from high school, no one I know has committed suicide. But twice as many people commit suicide every year than die of HIV/AIDS, 40,000. In my lifetime, suicide has tripled among young people and is the second leading cause of death in the 15-24 age group. According to the CDC, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US, far ahead of homicide at 16th.
The strongest risk factor for suicide is depression. Yet 80% of those who seek treatment for depression are treated successfully. I know that personally – I’ve been taking an anti-depressant since the 1990s. Education and awareness also successfully prevent suicide. Unfortunately, shame still lingers around the topic of mental illness and its treatment. It’s time to stop the shame.
So I’ve been publicizing Honoka’a’s first suicide prevention walk at Third Thursday Thrive for the past two months, and Saturday I joined over 50 people in The Out of the Darkness Suicide Prevention campaign that is a part of our Peace Day events. It’s a small act on my part to give back to my community.
Earlier in the week The Peace Committee hosted the movie Dead Poet’s Society with Robin Williams at the Honoka‘a People’s Theatre. A local psychiatrist spoke before and after the event. I wondered why we were focusing so much on this topic until I heard that three high schoolers commit suicide every year in this town. I’m not sure if that’s high or low compared to national levels. But it doesn’t matter. That’s three young people’s deaths, rippling deeply, directly and indirectly through this small town every year.
Our county council woman opened the event with a heartfelt plea for a change in attitude about mental illness. She and other speakers said that for too long we have been hiding the issue of suicide because of its link to mental illness and shame. She profusely thanked the organizer who had lost a child to this hidden tragedy. No one was asked to publicly share their story, but the impact of suicide showed up in the bead necklaces that the organizers provided. People chose their beads by color – one for those who lost a child to suicide, another color for loss of a friend, another for spouse, a sibling, and so on. Another color showed who self-identified as struggling with suicide. Blue beads indicated a person supporting the cause. I am so fortunate that blue was the only color I wore. But nothing prepared me for the sea of necklaces, many people wearing several colors.
This walk helped us reach out to each other, look each other in the eye, offer hugs, and a ready ear to listen. There is hope that some healing began here in Honoka‘a. We’ll be walking again next year. I’ll be there.
Adults commit suicide too. But it is the children that touch me the most – those who commit suicide and those dealing with the suicide of someone close to them. Let’s stop the shaming so we can get help to the people who need it. Let’s do it in the name of those who have been left behind to pick up the pieces.
For more information, see www.SAVE.org (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education). Thank you to Sarah Anderson Photography for allowing me to reprint her photos here. Her website is www.sarahandersonhawaii.com.
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