May is National Mental Health Awareness month. Across the U.S., nearly 60 million Americans live with mental illness which brings me one step further to the issue of suicide prevention. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, studies have shown that 90 percent of all people who die by suicide had a diagnosable mental illness, most often depression, at the time of their death.
Statistics can cause an alarming wake up call. For instance, last year a Veterans Administration study concluded that an average of 22 veterans died by suicide daily. To put that in prospective, that could equal the number of seats in a classroom or more than the number of players on an NBA basketball team, which statistically speaking, would eliminate the NBA in over two weeks.
In 2013, Lee County statistics showed that 75 percent of the suicides were completed by men. Although the age range with the highest suicide rate was 50-59 with 22 suicides, the total suicide rate for our elderly population of over 60 was 41 suicides. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the suicide rate for older adults (age 65 and older) is higher than the general population.
Why a person ends their life is a complex and individual issue. While the reasons may differ for each person, the one thing in common that those left behind share is their pain. In addition to coping with this type of loss, the gnawing and unanswered question of "Why" compounds their grief.
The stigma that surrounds mental health, and suicide in particular, can leave survivors grieving in isolation.
Family members and friends who are left behind by suicide often have feelings of abandonment, guilt, anger and profound sadness. Talking about the loss of a loved one to suicide can help break the stigma associated with suicide. It offers the survivor the opportunity to grieve openly and not behind the closed doors of shame and guilt that once was the norm.
The Lee County Survivor of Suicide Loss Support Group provides a safe place for survivors to connect and share their stories as they begin to heal. This is a place for people to come and talk with others without the fear of being judged. If you have lost a loved one to suicide and are in need of support, please call me, Teresa Tate, at 541-1151 or Vicki Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org for information on the Lee County Survivors of Suicide Loss Support Group.
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). All calls are confidential and a skilled, trained counselor is available 24/7 to talk to you.
--Teresa Tate is the facilitator for the Lee County Survivor of Suicide Loss