Let the conversation begin.
Do you remember the movie "Ground Hog Day?" The movie debuted in February 1993 and starred Bill Murray Andie MacDowell. From a philosophical point of view, the movie is quite fascinating. Phil (Murray's character) is a TV weatherperson sent to a small quaint town to report on a huge weather event: will Mr. Ground Hog show up to announce spring or will winter continue?
Phil, who is not particularly pumped with his story assignment, gets snowed in, can’t leave, and now gets to relive his days over and over again. Needless to say, he becomes a tad anxious, depressed and self-absorbed. It would appear Phil is not at the top of his game.
As the movie peels away this man’s outer and inner being we, the audience, feel his pain. Phil is not a bad guy. Indeed, he is just like us at different stages in our lives.We’ve all searched at some point in our lives for our own internal happiness and hope.
Phil eventually found his light at the end of the tunnel by, as hard as it is, asking for help from another. He let his defensive, nasty and sometimes mean-spirited guard down and took a chance on humanity. Perhaps an oversimplification, but it seemed that Phil found out that YES! his life was worth LIVING. He found his internal self-worth.
Consider another well-received movie, "Castaway," with Tom Hanks and his buddy Wilson, the volleyball. Mr. Hanks is in a plane crash over the South Pacific and subsequently is stranded alone on an island for over 4 years. During his time on the island, he receives the most precious gift: his friend, who arrives by sea, Wilson. One could argue that Wilson did in fact save Mr. Hank’s life. We as human beings are not meant to live on our own alone. We are meant to live as a team, and are wired to support and nurture each other. We all need a Wilson.
September is National Suicide Awareness Month
Can you imagine waking up every day feeling an exorbitant amount of anxiety? Normally, when we think about someone who is suicidal we think "Oh, they must be sooooo depressed." Sure, probably. But think about it for a second: sometimes, albeit not all the time, when people are depressed, they are just too tired to get out of bed. They haven’t got the energy to do anything about their situation. When people have anxiety, energy increases as does motivation, commitment and ability to carry through with a plan. Make sense?
In 2011 (the most recent year for which CDC data are available), the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention states that 39,518 suicides were reported, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans. In that year, someone died by suicide every 13.3 minutes.
In 2011, the highest suicide rate (18.6) was among people 45 to 64 years old. The second highest rate (16.9) occurred in those 85 years and older. In contrast, younger groups have had consistently lower suicide rates than middle-aged and older adults. For example, in that same study year, adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 24 had a suicide rate of 11.0.
Statistics aside, those most vulnerable to suicide are not surprisingly often-bullied LGBT teens and military personnel (due to PTSD). To put this into context:
What You May Not Know & Pending Legal / Ethical Dilemnas
While the above statistics and stories are often reported in the media, what is not commonly known is that up to 45% of all people who die by suicide visited their Primary Care Physician within a month of their death (Laoma et al, 2002). And, 20% of those people who died by suicide visited their primary care physician within 24 hours prior to their death, according to the American Association of Suicidology.
I also wish to include another category of people to watch very closely as we progress in the area of genetic testing. As these tests allow for more accurate genetic diagnosis of inherited diseases and our ability to identify the changes in chromosomes, genes or proteins, people might be more eager to find out if they might “get” a certain disease sometimes years before the symptoms ever appear. Then, what do we do with the “what if” consequences?
What happens if and when people learn they may have the identifying biomarker inside their body? The results of the testing might indicate, for example, that one day a person could get Alzheimer's. Now that person is healthy enough, clear enough and freaked out enough but he or she says to the doc, “No worries, I’m just going to kill myself.” We as health care providers have a huge legal and ethical dilemma to master.
The Bottom Line: People Do Not Fake Wanting to Hurt Themselves
It is not just someone going through a phase. If you ignore the cry for help, it will not simply go away. Suicidal ideations and thoughts are as real as having a blood disorder that causes blood clots to form in small blood vessels throughout the body. These clots can limit or block the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the body’s organs causing damage. So is feeling like the best decision you could ever make in your life -- because you know it is the right one -- is to end your life and commit suicide. Pretty dramatic psychiatric/medical example, don’t you think?
As National Suicide Awareness Month comes to a close, please choose all year round to be aware of those around you in our hectic and harried fast paced lives. When next you say, “Hi, how are you?” please wait for the answer and please hear the response. How hard would that be? Together, with simple kindness and caring, we can help to eradicate suicide and to restore hope to those living without it.
As Rose Tremain said, "Life is not a dress rehearsal."
Guest Blog Post by Nancy Lambert M.S., CRC, FLT, LinkedIn Profile
If you are feeling suicidal, please contact the 24/7 NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE @ 1.800.273.8255.