There are millions of people who are seriously enough depressed to consider killing themselves. That doesn’t mean they do so, but it’s very worrisome when anyone we know talks about taking his or her own life.
We hear a great deal about this among teenagers. And there was a point in time when suicide among teenagers was on the rise. In fact, when I was writing my book about suicide (SILENT GRIEF: Living in the Wake of Suicide), which is re-issued this month (April), it was the great fear in the U.S. that the rash of teen suicides would escalate and escalate until we had a true epidemic.
In fact, that has not been the case. Teen suicides have held steady over the past 20 years. But that is no consolation to even one parent whose 15 or 17-year old has died from suicide. Any teen suicide is one too many. And, considering that comparatively few teens die from chronic diseases or other major killers of American adults, the percentage of deaths that suicide represents among teens is very high.
Here are the statistics, for instance, from 2004, as collected by the American Association of Suicidology, the oldest suicide study group in the country:
% of deaths in group
Young (15-24 years)
There are two surprising things about these statistics. The first is that the rate of suicides in this country has remained essentially level for twenty years. The second is that if you subtract the 9,500 representing the young and the elderly (the two groups said to represent the greatest number of suicides), you still have over 20,000 suicides in the population between 24 years of age and 65.
In other words, while our concern about teen suicides has grown and is certainly worth our concern, it is still the relatively young and the relatively middle aged who represent the largest number of suicides in the country.
What effect does that have? As we say in our book, the ripple effect for all suicides is enormous. Parents, children, siblings, friends, lovers, spouses – all have terrible reactions to the death by suicide of someone they care about. It has long been suggested that suicide (or, rather, the depression that usually causes it) is genetic in origin. But for those left behind by the death of a loved one, those not even linked by blood to the dead person are still forced into a position of guilt, anger, and loss. This can lead, experts have said, to more suicides; or, at the least, to dysfunction, loss of income, physical problems, divorce, etc., etc.
My own tale, in this regard, is some evidence. My mother killed herself when I was six (she was bipolar); my uncle, aunt, and grandmother killed themselves when I was much older. My brother killed himself ten years ago. Without going into details or surmise about the particular nature of the illnesses that lead to these deaths, suffice it to say that my own life has been a long, long battle with the anger, guilt, loss, and depression that these suicides brought to my doorstep.
That I myself have not killed myself is thought, by many who know me, to be a miracle. But that is not the case. The fact is that I sought treatment fairly early on. I received good care. Medication and psychotherapy helped me through all the years. I have never seriously considered ending my life by suicide. I am lucky.
But miracle implies metaphysical or heavenly help. I believe my luck is due to skilled intervention by earthly bodies.