In 2016 World Health Organization estimated that close to 800 000 people die due to suicide every year, which is one person every 40 seconds. A staggering statistic that sickens me to the core. In the four hours it will take me to publish this article, 360 people will have taken their own life. I truly hope that this article will inspire you to be the catalyst that saves a life.
In her book, Night Falls Fast, psychologist/author Kay Redfield Jamison dissects the events that led to the tragic death of Captain Meriwether Lewis. If you are not familiar with Captain Meriwether Lewis you might know him better as the expedition leader President Thomas Jefferson tasked with exploring lands west of the Mississippi River that comprised the Louisiana Purchase. Lewis chose William Clark as his co-leader for the mission thus forming the infamous team Lewis and Clark. On October 11, 1809, two years after the infamous expedition, Lewis took his own life by suicide.
In her own words, author Kay Redfield Jamison says, "We all die -- whether by bullet, rope, poison or old age -- and Lewis died having lived a life of remarkable courage, accomplishment and vision. That he did what he did despite occasional and terrible suffering surely makes the idea of a "blot" on his name particularly absurd. Suicide is not a blot on anyone's name. It is a tragedy."
On August 11, 2014, the world lost a great actor and comedian - Robin Williams. Known for his work in Dead Poet's Society, Patch Adams, and my all-time favourite Good Morning, Vietnam, to name a few. Convinced that Robin's suicide should not be viewed as a blot on his career, Kay spoke about the clinical importance of correctly identifying and treating mental illness to prevent suicide. Throughout her life's work, Kay has challenged the stigma and outdated views that have prevented clinicians, coworkers and family members from saving lives lost to mental illness and suicide.
When a person dies of cancer we openly celebrate their life and accomplishments. Yet when a person takes their own life, due to mental illness, society views the loss as shameful and as Kay would say a 'blot' on their character and career.
In 2001, the legendary band, System of a Down released the song Chop Suey. Originally titled "Suicide', Columbia Records insisted that the name be changed to avoid blowback from fans and industry. The song title is therefore a wordplay: "Suey" is "suicide", "chopped" in half.
As described by System of a Down guitarist/vocalist Daron Malakian: "The song is about how we are regarded differently depending on how we pass. Everyone deserves to die. Like, if I were now to die from drug abuse, they might say I deserved it because I abused dangerous drugs. Hence the line, 'I cry when angels deserve to die.'"
I don't think you trust
In... My... Self-righteous suicide
I... Cry... When angels deserve to die
In, my, Self-righteous suicide
I, cry, when angels deserve to die
~ Verse from Chop Suey - System of a Down (2001)~
The words of Daron Malakian, not only reflect the arcane views society has on drug-related death from an overdose but also reflect the arcane views society has on mental illness and suicide.
Now I want to be clear... I do not condone suicide... I have walked the dark lonely mile and I can tell you personally that suicide is not the answer and it is not the solution. Stigma and arcane views on mental illness and suicide are costing precious and meaningful lives. I believe that every life lost to suicide was 100% preventable and we as society need to do more.
I believe that if you truly want to make an impact on the world, be the catalyst that makes mental illness and suicide prevention part of mainstream medicine. Be the catalyst that starts the discussion of mental health with your family, your school, your workplace and your place of worship. Be the person that saves a life.
In closing I would like to ask you to observe a moment of silence for the 363 people lost to suicide. That is 360 lost during the time it took me to write and edit this article and an additional 3 lives lost while you read.
Look to the living, love them, and hold on…
~ from Douglas Dunn poem 'Disenchantments'~