Awareness is the first step to preventing suicide

The word “suicide” — albeit taboo — is no new concept in American society. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States in 2012, roughly translating to an American committing suicide every 12.9 minutes. From 1986 to 2000, suicide rates dropped from 13 to 10.4 deaths per 100,000 people, but this number has returned to its elevated rate since the beginning of the millennium.

The media all but reinforces this staggering statistic: Books and movies rarely shy away from creating characters who struggle with suicidal thoughts, and these mediums do viewers a great service. They show us that suicide is not a sickness that preys upon an unassuming individual without warning. It’s a product of the manifestation of mental and physical ordeals that leave a person with the belief that suicide is their only way to find peace. In cases of suicide, coroner reports rarely conduct more thorough analyses into why the deceased was driven to such an act, and this has a cyclical effect on prevalence of disorders suffered by the deceased and on suicide rates themselves.

Similarly, neglecting to list disorders like depression and anorexia on death certificates essentially bars those cases of death from being recorded as statistics that could otherwise make a meaningful impact. There’s no denying that numbers play a large role in capturing our attention. Though both are equally tragic, the murders of ten thousand civilians will indisputably cause a larger stir than the murder of one man alone. Seeing the real number of people committing suicide because of any mental illness allows us to bring awareness to more people and come closer to making a change.

These statistics also have an effect on what organizations and resources receive funding. After all, it seems logical that we would invest the most money into the problems affecting the largest percentage of the population. Funding for polio treatment in the U.S. is nearly nothing compared to current investments in cancer treatment and research. It’s simply more prevalent, and ignoring the auxiliary causes of suicide means that these disorders may not be receiving sufficient funding.

The last step of this cyclical process is the positive effects of funding on relieving the pain of sufferers and in turn, helping prevent suicide. A blog named Daily Kos explores the autopsy report of Adam Lanza, the perpetrator of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in 2013. His report shows that at 6 feet tall and 112 pounds, Lanza had a BMI of 15.1, which qualifies as semi-starvation and anorexia nervosa. And according to the Minnesota Starvation Project, “prolonged semi-starvation produced significant increases in depression [and] hysteria,” along with social withdrawal and a decline in judgment capabilities in their subjects.

If Lanza had been exposed to a support group that helped him cope with his illness, or if the thousands who have committed suicide in the last decade had been given help for whatever disorders they were dealing with, could we have prevented all of these unnecessary deaths? One can’t be sure, but it’s an absolute certainty that providing resources for the problems that plague many Americans begins with an awareness of those problems, and that’s an easy enough place to start.

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