Suicide: A collective concern

Answers to some questions about

The recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain shocked many of us. Successful, wealthy and famous people surrounded by family and friends who love them are supposed to be happy. They’re not the ones we expect to choose death during middle age.

I was aware of both celebrities but didn’t follow them closely, although now I wish I had paid more attention. Spade was very humble, yet inspired legions of aspiring designers. Bourdain was authentically committed to lifting up those who toiled in hot kitchens at low wages. Their fans are understandably confused and upset—they had no idea of the suffering both endured despite apparently “having it all.”

Severe depression can be debilitating but not necessarily visible to those outside a person’s inner circle. It’s difficult to comprehend the all-encompassing darkness and understand how people can choose to end their lives, inflicting deep pain and sorrow on their families. How can they believe that even those they love the most would be better off without them?

Suicide rates in the United States have increased by 25 percent since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nevada is the only state where suicides have actually decreased during this time period, if only by one percent, an anomaly given our unenviable history of consistent high rankings since these statistics have been recorded, often as the worst or second-worst state. But things started to change in 1999 when Assemblymember Dawn Gibbons disclosed her father’s suicide and convinced Gov. Kenny Guinn to add $200,000 to the budget for a statewide suicide hotline. The Office of Suicide Prevention was created, and its small but dedicated staff have worked diligently to create community partnerships, including one with gun shops, to prevent more people from taking their own lives.

In 2015, for the very first time, Nevada made it out of the top 10 states with the highest suicide rates, but by 2016, we tied with Colorado at number five.

Western states have higher rates of suicide affecting all demographic groups, especially veterans. Middle-aged adults have the highest increase in suicide, a trend that experts say are “deaths of despair” about relationships, a recent crisis, substance abuse and the aging process. Nearly half of the suicides were people who had not been diagnosed with a mental health problem.

Nevada leads the nation in senior suicides, double the national average. And it’s not Clark County skewing the statistics. In 2017, Washoe County experienced 20 elderly suicides, a rate of 29.5 per 100,000. If you go back four years, the 2013-2017 rates are even more heartbreaking. Washoe County’s rate was 40.3 per 100,000 while Clark’s was 28.4. Social isolation, substance abuse, economic concerns, illness and easy access to firearms are all contributing factors.

Preventing suicide is a collective responsibility. We shouldn’t wait for someone who is struggling to reach out for help. We can be there for each other. We need to talk about depression, acknowledge the pain, and remind ourselves of our own humanity. And we need to listen more than we talk.

We must debunk the mythology that talking about suicide can trigger someone to take his or her life. You’re not placing the idea in their head by asking if they’re thinking about it. Put 1-800-273-TALK (8255), the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in your phone. Don’t hesitate to call it.

The stigma surrounding mental health concerns is real. Getting help needs to be seen as a viable option and not an indicator of failure. And, of course, we must advocate for affordable, accessible mental health care for everyone.

You can be hope and help for someone on the brink of tragedy. Be a friend and ask the hard questions.