Don’t Understand Suicide? Then Learn

Last weekend, I was out to dinner with my boy, and two parents with their college-aged son sat at the table next to us. Anthony Bourdain committed suicide two days earlier, and the father shared his thoughts.

“I don’t understand how someone could kill themselves,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s gotta be the most selfish thing you can do.”

His son spoke up. “Dad, it’s a clinical problem.”

“I still don’t get it,” Dad said.

“Often, when people commit suicide, it’s because they are struggling with a mental illness,” his son answered.

Dad shook his head.

“It’s comments like that, Dad, that make it so much harder.”

It wasn’t my business, but I addressed them. “By the way,” I said and pointed to the son,”He’s right.”

It’s been one week since Anthony Bourdain took his own life, and during that time 861 more Americans have done the same. In the wake of Bourdain’s suicide and Kate Spade’s before him, the Centers for Disease Control heartbreakingly reported that since 1999, the suicide rate has increased by 30%.

Saying you don’t understand suicide is as tired a response as “thoughts and prayers” following a mass shooting. It’s not the responsibility of anyone, particularly those who are suicidal, to explain it to you. But I’ll do you that favor because I’m worked up enough.

The short answer if you don’t understand something is to learn about it. Before becoming a home inspector, you trained and earned your American Home Inspection Society certification. Prior to trying your first case, you studied law, prepared for and passed the Bar exam.

If you don’t understand suicide, learn about it.

The information is at your fingertips, and it’s free. The same can’t be said for the high cost of law school tuition or the price tag on the drone for aerial condo inspections.

Fire up Google Chrome, search “suicide causes” and you’ll find helpful information from resources like Healthline, Psychology Today, and The National Institute of Mental Health.

If you don’t understand suicide, learn about it.

But since I can’t get the image of that dad shaking his head out of my mind, I’ll provide you with the key messages from this excellent Healthline piece:

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, taking the lives of about 43,000 Americans each year. Approximately 90 percent of people who commit suicide have a mental illness at the time of their death.

Other risk factors beside mental illness include:

  • previous suicide attempts
  • substance abuse
  • incarceration
  • family history of suicide
  • poor job security or low levels of job satisfaction
  • history of being abused or witnessing continuous abuse
  • being diagnosed with a serious medical condition, such as cancer or HIV
  • being socially isolated or a victim of bullying
  • being exposed to suicidal behavior

The demographic for those most at risk for suicide are: men, people over the age of 45, Caucasians, American Indians, or Alaskan Natives. Warning signs to look out for include, feelings of hopelessness, avoiding social interactions, substance abuse, expressing rage or intentions to seek revenge.

Now you know that people commit suicide for many reasons, including mental illness, pain, loneliness, isolation, and not to mention our broken media culture.

If you don’t understand suicide, learn about it.

Both are choices, understanding and learning. If you can still do neither--if you continue to keep your head in the sand--then you are actively choosing to not feel empathy or compassion.

And I can’t help you with that.

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    David Telisman

    I am a vitamin D-deficient former Floridian--who, despite the spring...er...extended winter--loves Chicago. I contradicted convention (and common sense) by moving FROM the beach to the Midwest, but Lou Malnati's and any Italian beef sandwich reinforce that I made the right decision. I also got a wife and two sons out of it, and I would do anything for my family, except miss a Miami Hurricanes football game. This is my take on fatherhood. You can contact me at david.telisman@gmail.com. Thank you for reading!

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