The death we don’t speak of

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Suicide is one of the most difficult topics to write about, much less talk about. Even most newspapers and other media outlets — entities that push for more openness — have policies against coverage of suicides, except in certain circumstances. We’ve never seen a single obituary that listed “suicide” as the cause of death. It’s just too painful to talk about or even acknowledge.

We have had too many around here, especially young people, but if you don’t hear about it through a friend or family member, you don’t know about it and you may not realize just how prevalent it is. It’s the 12th-leading cause of death in our state. In the last 10-year period for which there are statistics, 3,790 Mississippians took their own lives.

But those numbers don’t tell the whole story. Suicide is a death that has many victims, often guilt-ridden family members or close friends who feel like they didn’t see the warning signs or, if they did, they didn’t do enough to try to stop it. They don’t know whether to mourn or to be mad. They often feel both at the same time, then feel guilty about the latter. But it eats at them.

Suicide is the ultimate selfish act. Sometimes it’s even a hostile act. It may be done with noble intentions, such as to spare others pain, yet all it does is compound problems. It’s sometimes meant as a way of getting back at a person or people who hurt those who end their lives too soon.

There’s a stigma surrounding suicide, and there should be … but for the perpetrators, not the survivors. If someone truly wants to kill himself or herself, he or she is going to do it, and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it. Still, that doesn’t absolve survivors of their guilt and pain. And it certainly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to prevent it.

Gov. Phil Bryant signed a proclamation declaring September as Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Earlier this year, the state Legislature passed House Bill 263, which focuses on suicide prevention and awareness for school officials and requires special training for them. They learn about the warning signs: Withdrawal from friends and/or usual habits, talking about being a burden or having no reason to live, abuse of alcohol and/or other substances and a family history of suicide or mental illness.

The focus is on prevention, as it should be. Still, survivors are the real victims. It’s been said that the death of a child is the cruelest ordeal a parent can endure. With suicide, that pain is exponentially worse. And it’s all too common, considering that it is the third-leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24 in our state. And what adds to the pain for the parents is that they often don’t have the same support system as the parents of victims of car wrecks or terminal illnesses. The result is the same with all of them — death and loss. But it isn’t the same for the survivors.

For those who are thinking about suicide, please know that there are people who care. If you can’t turn to a family member or person in a position of trust in your life, call the state Department of Mental Health’s toll-free hotline anytime at 1-877-210-8513 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Do that before you do something that can’t be undone. Problems are temporary. Killing yourself is permanent. And the pain lasts a lifetime.