Let’s Talk About Suicide Statistics, Please

Let's Talk About Suicide Statistics, Please by popular lifestyle blogger, Design Mom

Let's Talk About Suicide Statistics, Please by popular lifestyle blogger, Design Mom

Hearing about Anthony Bourdain’s suicide was another gut punch. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, try this New Yorker profile. He’ll make you want to travel, and he’ll help you combat the fear-of-the-other that so many of us grow up with in America.

Let’s talk about suicide statistics for a minute, please. The CDC shared a new report showing suicide statistics rates in our country are climbing dramatically. Here are some things we know from the study.

Suicide Statistics:

– Guns are the most common method of suicides; used in about half of suicide deaths.
– Most suicides happen without warning. 54% of the people who kill themselves don’t have mental health issues, but instead are going through a temporary low-point — relationship problems, money problems, physical health problems.
– Having access to a gun greatly increases the chance someone will suddenly, unexpectedly, and successfully kill themselves.

Things we know from earlier research:
– 85% of suicide attempts using guns are successful.
– Suicide attempts using non-gun methods are not nearly as successful. In fact, drug overdose, the most widely used method in suicide attempts, is fatal in less than 3 percent of cases.

Suicide is unpredictable. The decision for most people to take their lives happens in less than five minutes from thought to completion. Please do not keep guns in your home.

For the 46% of suicides where there is a known history of mental illness, please don’t make assumptions. Emily McDowell shared an Instagram post a couple of days ago that might give you a new perspective on why mental health can be so deadly.

For those of you who fight with your brains on the regular just to stay alive, please know I’m right there with you. When I read about Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, my first feeling was sadness — but it was shortly followed by feelings of jealousy. They did it. They’re officially done with life. And I’m jealous because I’m still stuck here battling with my brain.

Does it make sense? Of course not. I have an awesome life, and I’m surrounded by people I love. Why would I ever want to cut it short? Turns out the sick part of my brain doesn’t care much whether or not something makes sense.

How are you holding up with the sad news this week? Has suicide touched your life? If you’ve been suicidal, what helped you get past it? Suicide hotline? A visit from a friend? Distracting yourself with Netflix?

P.S. — We can’t possibly know the burdens that other people are carrying. I need that reminder daily.

43 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Suicide Statistics, Please”

  1. Samesies. All of it.

    I’ve been suicidal three times. Each time I was furious that we don’t own guns because every other method took too much effort and planning.

    Thank God. Truly, if we owned a gun, I would not be here.

    Ultimately, procrastination was my friend. During acute spells, not having a gun saved me, during chronic spells, procrastination saved me. I just kept putting it off tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow until it eventually passed.

  2. It’s just so desperately sad, and a horrible loss. I wish there was more to say to make it all better.

  3. Thank you so much for your vulnerability. Life is harrowing, sometimes or often. We have to be able to recognize ourselves in all of these heartbreaking stories.

  4. Lisa and Gabby,
    You are both breaking my heart. Gabby, I have become a serious fan of your thoughtful writing. When a difficult moment surfaces I look forward to you presenting that tricky balance of a both reasonable, and passionate examination of the issue. I know that you’ve shared your struggle with depression before, and it proved again that brilliant, productive, admirable people often struggle in unseen pain.

    There was a comment, (so many significant comments) on http://www.cupofjo.com this week comparing depression and suicidal thoughts to a shark who is in the water with you. Somehow that metaphor makes sense to me.
    As I look at this screen I am thinking of you both and willing that shark to swim deep and far, away from you, and hoping that you are safely on shore very soon.

  5. Your comment that the sick part of your brain doesn’t much care whether or not something makes sense explains this so well. We have to all try to understand the desperation someone must feel and not just say, but their life is so great, how could they possibly do this?! Of course they wouldn’t if they felt everything was so great. I was so sad about Kate Spade, especially for her husband and daughter, but for some inexplicable reason, Anthony Bourdain hit harder. Maybe because he was so badass, also because he left behind a daughter. I just want to turn back the clock each time and have someone help.

  6. Thank you truly for sharing what is on your heart with us. I was so not aware of the information that you shared on suicide. If there ever was a reason to keep guns out of our homes…

    1. Feel free to share this information far and wide. When people talk about gun violence, suicide is often set aside as not really part of the problem, but the availability of guns definitely correlates to an increase in suicides. It’s so important that we keep suicides in mind as we work through the gun safety issues in America.

      1. When I was researching suicide awhile ago, I read that the decision for most people to take their lives happens in less than five minutes from thought to completion… That’s one reason (of many) why guns are so dangerous to have in the home.

  7. The same thing crossed my mind too today. And I am also lucky we don’t own a gun. Despite my gun control stance, I have often thought of buying one just for that purpose.

    Despite his gruff exterior, Anthony Bourdain was a sensitive person. He went to great lengths to portray those from other countries as real people who care about the same day to day things as we do…friends, family and what we’re going to eat for dinner. He often asks his guests if they have hope for the future. He asked Obama if he thought the world will get better. And he was a staunch supporter of the MeToo movement. I can’t help but think this terrible political environment became too weighty and played a part in his decision today.

    1. “I can’t help but think this terrible political environment became too weighty and played a part in his decision today.”

      I wonder that too. As we look back in several years, will the growing rate of suicides that we’ve experiencing right now be clearly tied to what’s happening politically? It would not surprise me. It can feel overwhelming.

  8. I think what kept me crossing the line was that I, if I weren’t here my son, would be raised form my mother-in-law who, I hate deeply, and was the one who put me in my darkest times at the first place.
    The thought of him being raised by my parents is even worse.

    1. Though I’m lucky in the in-law department, I hear you — if you can find a thought that prevents you from crossing the line, and you can hold that though firmly, it’s a blessing.

  9. oh my gosh Gabby, I am so sorry you battle this so badly. I too fight with anxiety and depression (thankfully the depression is on pause right now; anxiety is always rolling though!), but never thought to take my own life. I have had pretty ugly fights with you on political stuff in the past, but please know, you are SO VALUED. I couldn’t bare anything happening to you. I love your blog, and I don’t agree with everything anyone believes in, but I still love and value them.
    A reason I didn’t see mentioned above about the possible increase in suicide, is the increase in the lack of faith. I personally believe, the more secular a society we become, the more agnostic, the more atheist we become, the more HOPE we lose, and the emptier we become. That’s why no amount of money, fame, people and things can fill it.
    “Our hearts are restless, until they rest in you.” St Augustine of Hippo–I love this quote and rings so, so true to me.

    1. I so agree with you, that faith plays a big role in everyone’s lives.

      As an atheist, though I would add that for some people religion is not the answer. On the contrary, trying to abide by their religious beliefs and follow their church’ “guidelines” to have a happy life, might actually be the cause or trigger of mental health problems.

      1. This is such an important point. Depression and anxiety can have multiple causes/triggers. I have had depression for 25 years, since I was 14 years old. There are most definitely genetic/brain chemistry/hormonal factors involved in my depression, but there were also situational/nurture/thinking pattern factors in my depression and anxiety. One of these was the way I was taught to think by mainstream, Protestant Christianity. I am no longer religious, and have spent the past few years “reprogramming” my brain and teaching myself to think differently. Even after leaving the church and no longer believing in hell, it took me years to train my brain/body to not respond with fear and/or guilt to certain stimuli. I feel as if I wasted years of my life afraid and ashamed because of religious training.

        I do see the value in religion and faith if it were a positive one, that taught love, compassion, and kindness. That could have helped a lot of my anxiety. My depression, on the other hand, has been more challenging. I just started trying a new medication, and I really hope it works. I’ve done a lot of work trying to treat it with exercise, natural foods, mindfulness, meditation, yoga, therapy. It seems to require medication.

        So, I hope that if one values religion and faith, one can take comfort in that and be grateful, but please don’t believe that it will cure mental illness, and please don’t think it helps everyone.

  10. I agree that more empathy, compassion, and awareness are needed in our society to support people with depression. But it’s so important to remember that depression is a disease, just like cancer or heart disease. You don’t get cancer because of a lack of faith, you get it because the cells in your body start multiplying uncontrollably. Depression is also a result of your body failing you (this time the cells in your brain). But depression is an especially dangerous disease because those same failing cells are also the ones that control your actions.

    1. “You don’t get cancer because of a lack of faith, you get it because the cells in your body start multiplying uncontrollably.”

      Yes. Exactly. In my experience, depression is a physical issue, not a spiritual one.

  11. One thing that troubles me: I understand that you (and others) are talking about this out of a sense of sympathy and concern, but what about the fact that suicide is well known to be socially contagious? Just like having a gun in the house makes suicide more likely, hearing about another’s suicide makes suicide more likely – especially among adolescents. I have friend whose team at the CDC actually studies teen suicide on the model of an infectious disease, because it fits that model very well. But if that’s the case, isn’t all this coverage of prominent suicides, however well-intentioned, actually making more suicides more likely? Old-fashioned reticence about suicide may have served more of a purpose than we acknowledge in our get-everything-out-in-the-open modern culture.

    1. Anna, I do very much understand your concern. I don’t know enough about the research to make any relevant comment about the effect of discussing suicide on its spread, but I do know that having open discussions about mental illness have helped me personally in an enormous way. Reading this blog and two others in which the bloggers openly discuss their own experiences with mental health actually helped me to seek treatment and be willing to try medication, after 2.5 decades of suffering alone, and being afraid to reach out for help.

      1. I can see the value of discussing mental illness, and trying to make people less afraid to seek help for it, absolutely! I just wonder if publicizing “So-and-so committed suicide” is a beneficial thing to do. Apart from the social contagion aspect, I feel like if it was my parent or spouse or child I would much prefer it not be a news story everyone’s reading.

        In fact, I have a number of friends, in-laws, and distant relatives who – it seems – either committed suicide or seriously attempted it, but it’s generally been left unstated (even if everyone more or less knows or guesses it was the case), and I’m just not sure why it’s better that it be announced far and wide like this. It seems harmful to both the family’s private grief, and to the wider public good. I seriously wish our modern media had a concept of facts that are out there but would be better not published!

        Back in the day, just like the media didn’t publish dirt about presidents’ marriages (like the Roosevelt’s separation and estrangement throughout his presidency), they likewise didn’t see suicide as “news” to be sold for profit. I’d like to see those days back.

    2. Anna, you might appreciate this NPR segment that was on air yesterday — the discussion among three women includes two who have personal experience with suicide. I found their thoughts on talking about it vs. not talking about it really helpful. One of the experts mentioned the research on copycat suicides is actually quite mixed. They also mentioned talking openly about suicide can often be really healing for those who are left behind. They go into why some families don’t talk about it — and that it often involves shame or blame.

      1. FWIW, I have experienced the contagion factor first hand- three kids committed suicide in my high school over the course of three consecutive Thursday’s in the mid 90’s. It was horrific and life altering. It truly re-shaped my teenage brain to see suicide as an option and I went on to truly struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts that entire year.

        (All of these kids died by gun- none would have died had there not been a gun in the home.)

        And despite my real experience of suicide as contagion, I believe it is essential that it be talked about in a healthy, whole, compassionate way when it does happen. While there were counselors semi-available at my school at the time, no one said “I understand how these events may have changed the way you see the world. I understand that a new door has opened in your mind and this is normal. But here is how to close that door again…” Those are the words I needed to hear as a 17 year old, and that conversation is still absent today.

        Much love to all who are struggling.

  12. I appreciate the opportunity to talk openly about suicide. If I had stage IV colon cancer, I think my family and doctors would understand if I chose hospice and no treatment. I could say my goodbyes, find peace, and die at home in comfort. Could we start the conversation about giving folks with suicidal ideation the same respect? Maybe they’ve tried drugs and/or talking therapy…maybe they don’t want either. Maybe they can’t bear to be in the physical realm any longer. Why must they resort to dangerous self-harm that may or may not be effective?

  13. I found Anthony Bourdain’s news heart breaking, especially when coupled so closely with Kate Spade. I had a friend commit suicide (with a gun in the home) several years ago after he’d gotten a DUI and didn’t know how he would ever face his father. It’s heart breaking, heart wrenching. Alma 40:11, has been the only thing that’s brought me peace and comfort in terms of coping with my friend’s death.

  14. Heather Schaffer

    I’ve already commented about this before, but my cousin was able to commit suicide with a gun after two failed attempts without a gun. What was most devastating was he had been the happiest I had seen him in a year, with no attempts between. He was just impulsive and had access to the gun when the moment struck. Thank you for putting the statistics out there for people to know.
    I have struggled with depression and have been very blessed that when I contemplate suicide I am able to keep a frame of mind about how much I would damage my children. I have worked with adolescents who are in intensive in-patient treatment because they believe their parent’s suicide was their fault, that they weren’t worthy enough for their parent to stay with them. It is a very damaging belief, and very common as a child survivor.
    I always want my family to know I love them, even if I am in the depths of despair. That’s what helps me when suicidal thoughts come, but I know for some people it can quickly turn to “everyone will be better off without me.” Perhaps writing about what’s most important while rational and putting it somewhere to read when irrational?
    Our country needs help. Thank you for opening up discussions.

    1. “Perhaps writing about what’s most important while rational and putting it somewhere to read when irrational?”

      That seems like an exercise that would be worth trying for sure.

  15. My Kaila. She was 6 months from receiving her PhD from Duke University when she took her life, almost 4 years ago, she was 27. She was immensely brilliant, talented, and loved by literally everyone. She was kind, and gentle, and thoughtful always. She was a lover of academia, music, art, and yes, kittens. And her constant companion was clinical severe depression.

    3 months prior to her death she told me how much pain she was in -constantly and increasingly- she felt she was losing control, she felt she was losing her mind and the ability to think rationally. She told me she knew she had everything and was exceedingly blessed, she had friends and family who not only loved her, but made her feel cherished, she had a good home, wonderful mentors, teachers and people she trusted all around her. She wanted for nothing materially or physically, but her heart was broken and her mental emotional state was cracking more each day. “I have NO reason to be depressed! Why is this happening to me? Why can’t I control my own thoughts?” She went to therapy regularly, sought good help, took her meds, volunteered weekly, fostered kittens, exercised daily, ate well and very healthily, taught and supported her students and assisted her professors daily, and tried to diligently release the torture of her disease. She did everything the professionals asked her to do because she wanted nothing more than to be rid of this illness. It was goal #1.

    She had one very bad day, a very bad confusing and horribly frightening day that spoke to her of no more hope. She went to a store, purchased a gun, and took her life. I have written here, I think at least 4 times, about guns laws already being in place being utterly ignored, –had they run a background check, had they made her wait, had they had they…. my husband literally flew to her, but the seller of the gun refused to follow the laws, he sold her a gun before my husband landed and our time ran out.

    This was a young woman, who had such brilliance that she had earned a PhD with zero debt, she had full ride scholarships, fellowships, and people literally throwing money at her to help her succeed because they could see what she could bring into the future. This is mental illness. It is not the homeless person cowering in a doorway, not a drug addict, not a loner, although there are mentally ill in these groups as well. But we need to forget placing the mentally ill in boxes labeled “They brought this on themselves!” Every race, gender, and level of income has mental illness – it does not discriminate.

    It makes me incredibly sad to always read “Well, just goes to show! Money can’t buy you happiness!” or the extremely ignorant “What a selfish thing to do!” My daughter was mentally ill, not greedy, not not selfish, she was ill and when your brain is ill, there are some things that *can* be fixed, some that *can* be helped or eased, and some things that will never go away, some just have to learn to endure and live through the incredibly pain until the episode leaves…only to return again at another unexpected moment.

    There are times when decisions and rational thinking are not friends.

    The mentally ill are all around us, and I would say that 95% of them are closeted, fearful of sharing their realities, because there are still these kinds of statements coming from educated sources, being quoted in the media, or repeated around a dinner table or at the office over coffee.

    I am glad for the openness that has come in the last few years, more and more people sharing their personal situations. I am utterly grateful to you, Gabrielle, for your conversations and honesty about the struggles you face. I am grateful for the people who take the time to read your posts and to rethink or ponder what they can say and do to help someone they know who also struggles, or perhaps it is themselves – and now they know a bit more, they are not alone and we are ok about helping them through the dark. We are ok helping you.

    I fear I may have gone on too long, but I want you and anyone who reads this to know, we need you here. I understand the pain, and I know at times it is unbearable, but yes, please reach out, because you know someone who needs you to be here and because of that, they have zero problem doing whatever it is you need to help you get through. Someone really does need you to stay.

    1. PC Brown, my heart breaks for you and your family. And I am so angry at the person who sold your daughter her gun.

      I have anxiety myself and while most days I deal with it ok, well even, there are some days when I go to bed and wish that I won’t wake up in the morning or think it would all be easier if I just died. I know that most of my struggles aren’t anything compared to some but they’re there.

      When you said “She had one very bad day, a very bad confusing and horribly frightening day that spoke to her of no more hope” it really made sense to me. My worst day was after a night of absolutely no sleep (after a few nights of not much sleep). I was so exhausted and I felt what I imagined someone about to die of suicide would feel – there was simply no hope beyond that day. I could not imagine or see any type of future and felt like I didn’t have it in me to do anything I had previously dreamt or planned of doing. Even the thought of going to bed that night and being left alone with my thoughts scared me. Thankfully I had plans to see a friend that night and my parents were in town so I managed to get through the 24 hours and felt a bit better the next day. I don’t know what would have happened if I had to simply go home at the end of the day and be by myself. After experiencing that, I can now completely understand why people die of suicide. It was horrible and being in that headspace for days/weeks/months would be like torture.

      I’m so sad and mad your Kaila managed to get a gun because I know that if she would have been able to go to bed that night, the next morning she might have woken up with just enough hope to get through another day and another day after that.

      You’re a good mum and I can tell you’re really proud of your daughter. She sounds like an amazing woman and the world was so lucky to have her for 27 years.

    2. PC Brown, I’m heartbroken reading this. Thank you for taking the time to speak so beautifully and movingly of your daughter. I’m so sorry she suffered like this and that she’s no longer with you.

      Although intellectually I understand we can’t ever really keep our kids safe, you have that illusion when they’re younger. The hardest thing for me about my daughter growing up is the knowledge that my ability to keep her safe and sound is so limited.

      I know sharing your and your daughter’s story will have helped someone today. Thank you.

  16. I have suffered from mental illness for most of my life, though I did not know it when I was young. The way my mind worked was normal for me and I just thought that everyone thought like me – I didn’t know life could be different. I was diagnosed at age 29, began taking medication and having therapy. I was the first person in my extended family to be diagnosed with mental illness. I had no idea what it was all about. My mother kept asking me when I would get better. That was 24 years ago. I am still mentally ill. I have had years of therapy and made many changes in my thinking. Overall I am much healthier, happier and more stable than I used to be, but I will never “get better”.

    Recently I have been struggling with my mental health again and, in discussion with my doctor, decided to try a different medication. Weaning off my old medication and beginning a new medication did not go well and I am now back on my old medication for the moment. This experience showed me that no matter how much therapy I have, how much I change my thinking and ways of doing things to be mentally healthier, without appropriate medication my brain just does not work properly. Without my medication, my mind filled with dark thoughts that seemed rational, but were not. My moods were less stable and more extreme. My doctor tells me that my physical health is good. Unfortunately my brain just doesn’t work properly without my taking appropriate medication.

    I have 4 children and they all suffer from mental illness. Earlier this year a friend of my son killed herself and he is currently supporting another suicidal friend. My son is not doing so well himself and has realised he needs to pay more attention to his own mental health. He is taking steps to get the help he needs, which I am very glad about.

    Life is complicated. In my family, all of us suffering from mental illness simultaneously makes life difficult and helps draw us closer together because we can understand what each other is going through. I cannot imagine what life would be like without being mentally ill.

    Each of us has an impact on the lives of others, whether we realise it or not, and the death of any of us would effect many more people than we realise. I did not know my son’s friend well, but I cried when I heard she had killed herself. I cried and felt pain for the pain and suffering she must have been going through. I cried over her struggles and the loneliness she must have felt. I cried for the experiences she will not have and the lives she will not influence. I cried for the loss her family and friends feel now that she is not here.

    Thank you Gabby for your thought-provoking posts and for tackling difficult issues.

    1. “Without my medication, my mind filled with dark thoughts that seemed rational, but were not. My moods were less stable and more extreme. My doctor tells me that my physical health is good. Unfortunately my brain just doesn’t work properly without my taking appropriate medication.”

      I’m right there with you. Sending love.

      1. Vincent Santulli

        It’s easy to fall into depression and many do. In college , a lovely California student committed suicide , from a good family , wealthy , blessed with personality and good looks, and young. It was over a lost romance, she drank exclusively, then jumped from dorm room on fifth floor.
        Bourdain’s suicide , ( I believe) was due to a romance lost. What either of these two didn’t realize, couldn’t envision was that there were many suitors out there for them. If only they had the vision , the hope to look outside the box , their mind was trapped in. I hope this helps someone reading this , to look beyond the narrow view they are fixating on. It’s a matter of perspective, hope and praying always helps.

  17. Gabby! Thank you for your honesty. You are the first person I know of to ever describe that jealous feeling… Which is exactly how I feel (after the initial sadness). I first articulated that jealous feeling after Robin Williams died years ago when I was reading on Glennon Doyle’s blog about how suicide made her fear she would go the same way as him. I thought to myself then (and commented)… If you have fear, you are still rational. It’s different to feel that jealousy, because that is completely irrational. It was your blog entry about depression and Wellbutrin that made me seek help when I had severe PPD and PTSD after my last child and so I’m still here for my family… Thanks to your blog post! Please know that you make a huge positive impact on more people than you know. I am also a mom of four days and whenever I get close to suicide, I read the statistics for daughters whose mother’s kill themselves. I also have a friend whose mother killed herself when my friend was 9 and I’ve seen the impact its had in her life… So that keeps me here, too. Sometimes I think when we strive for perfection or or expectations for life and ourselves are too high, that’s where the problems start. I am an intj, so I analyze everything… And I wish I could be a little more go with the flow… Hugs to you. Hang in there!

  18. In my upper middle class suburban Chicago area, at least 10 high school students from our local schools have committed suicide in the last 2 years. Those are just the ones I know about. The situations have been varied – one boy had recorded video of himself and a girl in a sexual situation and was threatened by the school resource office with being on the sex offender list for the rest of his life, another was a transgender teen struggling, another was a girl whose parent had gotten her all the medical and therapeutic help available and who seemed to be doing well until she suddenly wasn’t, other parents didn’t know their child was struggling with depression. I know several other children struggling with their mental health. Our school systems and the pressure we put kids under to be at the top of their class doesn’t help either. It has been horrible and something I don’t fully understand as someone who does not struggle with depression. I have had some good conversations with my kids about it as a result though. Here are some articles we’ve discussed:

    Aurora teen opens up about struggles with anxiety, depression

    ‘No worse fate than failure’: How pressure to keep up is overwhelming students in elite districts

    The Naperville North Pressure Culture Must Change

  19. It makes me so angry when people insist that suicide is such a terrible thing. Try living for decades and decades of misery and hopelessness, then tell me that being able to be released from it is so terrible. Suicide can be a brave, deeply courageous decision. Sometimes there are no meds, no therapies, no spiritual practices, *nothing* that helps. NOBODY has a right to say that someone who suffers from constant pain should have to continue to suffer for untold years to come. It is cruel, really horribly, horribly cruel. Furthermore, there are other reasons than depression for suicide. Sometimes people have diseases that are excruciatingly painful. Should they have to live until they literally suffer to death? And what about people who cannot help but to molest children, who cannot go to therapy because therapists are required to report it (which is understandable), leaving the molester no recourse for help? Should the person just keep molesting until they’re finally caught, and then spend the rest of their life being beaten and raped in prison until they finally die of a beating, or rectal blood loss from gang rape? You people are so smug and so sure you have the right to judge others. You should be ashamed. Truly ashamed.

  20. I’m a little late reading posts, but I wanted to take a minute to thank you. Because you are so open to talk about mental illness, you help me to know that what I am feeling is normal. But more importantly, to know what to look for with my son to help him should he start to develop depression. He was recently diagnosed with ADHD, and through the process of creating his 504 plan for school we discovered he is at high risk for developing depression. So thank you from the bottom of my heart for being you!

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