Suicide: The Taboo Topic

by Staff on August 30, 2011

in Off-topic

Suicide Prevention

Every day, newspapers run columns detailing the violence in our communities: beatings, robberies, and homicides. As I write this, here are three of the articles listed on the front page of the Bloomington Herald-Times web site:

  • Man robbed at knifepoint on Kirkwood
  • IU students report being chased on East Atwater
  • Man taken to hospital after stabbing incident in Varsity Villas parking lot

Over the past week, I myself wrote several articles here about the violent murder of Stacey Lawson, a beautiful 28-year-old mother of two.

As a society we’re obsessed with crime and violence. Think about how much attention we pay to homicide every day. But did you know that nearly twice as many people die each from year from suicide as from homicide?

Suicide in the media

You don’t hear about it much because newspapers, as a general rule, do not write about suicides. They make exceptions in the case of public figures or when the suicide was a public event.

I can understand this, to an extent. According to some religions, taking one’s own life equates to an eternal life in hell. Guilt and shame often play a role. Families are grieving. Social standing might be harmed.

I’m not old enough to remember it but I’ve heard that there was a time that cancer was also not mentioned. Apparently it was considered an embarrassing way to die. For many years, dying from AIDS was treated in a similar manner.

As a society, why do we allow suicide to remain a secret? Many times, outright deception is used to keep the real cause of a death from becoming known.

In March 2010, when a man Ted Pillsbury died, his company said that he suffered an apparent heart attack. Every person that was there that day, however, knew that he walked a few feet from his car and shot himself. He was a well-known figure, however, so the truth quickly emerged.

Ignoring the cause

90 percent of those who commit suicide have an underlying mental illness, often undiagnosed, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Perhaps that’s the reason that we don’t talk about suicide — we don’t talk about the mental illness that often contributes to it.

A suicidal person often believes that the world would be better off without him or her. As anyone who has suffered from mental illness can tell you, it alters thinking. Death appears completely logical, sometimes even best, when viewed through the eyes of someone suffering from depression.

Friends and family struggle to understand why the suicide occurred because they aren’t looking at it with the same distorted view.

While publicizing a suicide is often painful, keeping the true cause of death a secret allows mental illness to continue to be a silent killer. Keeping it a secret prevents awareness of mental illness. It allows mental illness to continue to be viewed as a character flaw and not the real disease that it is.

Mitchell itself has seen a number of teenage suicides in the last few years. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is the third-leading cause of death (after accidents and homicides) for 15- to 24-year-olds in this country.

We openly discuss and publish the details of accidents and homicides, yet suicide continues to be a taboo topic for friends and family, news organizations, and members of the community.

Experts and psychologists warn that, especially in the case of young people, giving publicity to suicides carries the risk of copycats. A young person who sees the attention given to a classmate who committed suicide, they say, may be encouraged to do the same.

Like many others, I often read the obituary pages. I look at the picture of the deceased, young and old, and read about their lives and how they ended. Sometimes there is no explanation how they died, only a vague reference saying that they died at home. In these cases, I often wonder if it was suicide.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who wonders. The “need to know” is a natural curiosity, similar to how an animal puts its nose in the air, sniffing out the danger to itself and others.

Education is key

I understand why family members choose not to include suicide as the cause of death in obituaries. By doing so, however, I think they’re missing an opportunity to help educate others.

I’m just a regular person writing these articles. The last thing I want to do is cause pain to the family members of suicide victims. They are already dealing with grief that is likely much worse than anything that most of us will experience. I don’t want to put any guilt on them.

To blindly ignore the reality of suicide, though, only serves to put more lives at risk.

You know what saves lives? Open discussion, intervention by loved ones, treatment and addressing the problem, and awareness.

The first step to getting there? Honesty.

World Suicide Prevention Day 2011

This year, September 4th-10th is Suicide Prevention Week and September 10th has been designated World Suicide Prevention Day. For more information, visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention’s web page at

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