No, not “committed” - language matters
Vic MacDonald: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255; connects people with free, confidential support and crisis resources; also: suicidepreventionlifeline.org - May is Mental Health Awareness Month.
The subject for today - again, not “the former guy” - is the taking of one’s own life.
This is a portion of a guest writer article by Julia Park Tracey, appearing in the Huffington Post:
“Our 21-year-old son died by suicide in 2019, a fact I tell people as soon as I can bring it into conversation, so that they’ll understand who we are as a family and as human beings. I bring the unmentionable into the light because it’s a fact of our lives, and his, that we can’t ignore or deny. I can’t bring my son back. But as a bereaved parent, I can ask one thing of the rest of the world. I can, in fact, insist.
“Don’t say committed suicide. Please say, henceforth, that a person died by suicide.
“We no longer presume people with schizophrenia are possessed by demons or that the chronically depressed are cursed. But suicide as the felo de se, crime against oneself, is still the ultimate taboo, even as we staff hotlines and share social media posts to prevent it. The prohibition persists.
“I came into Austin’s life when he was turning 6, when his father and I started dating. We blended our family of five children, four teen girls and a wee boy, about two years later but there were bumps along the way. Blended families are complicated, mental health is complex, and childhood traumas can develop into something bigger even with therapy and interventions.
“As our boy went through his teen years, he struggled with a growing sense that adults were against him, that we did not have his back, and that there were conspiracies around him. We went through some rough years but hoped, as he turned 21, that he would grow out of it. Instead, he took his own life.
“We were sick with grief. We barely left the house for months. We tried to grapple with his choice and what was left of our lives. One idea became clear to me: We would never let Austin’s suicide be a source of embarrassment. We would speak of him openly and often. But people get nervous when I talk about Austin. They seem shocked that I’m not mortified or embarrassed. (I’m grief-stricken, but not ashamed.) When I write about Austin on social media, my DMs are flooded with friends who tell me, ‘I wish I could talk about my sister, my father, my little brother, my cousin, but I can’t.’ The heartbreak is doubled by people’s shame, guilt and social awkwardness.”
I still remember the day that the late Nick Nichols called us media types into the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office and got something off his heart.
Far too many people, the coroner said, were dying by suicide. It was heartbreaking, and there didn’t seem to be anything that could be done about it. The reasons for the suicides were as varied as the people themselves. Then, I reflected on our role, the news media’s role - for decades, died by suicide was off limits. Any time a young person’s obituary would appear we would ask, “How did this person die?” in case it was by violence, and then we would pursue a story. Drug overdose or suicide, oh, no story then.
That would be too hurtful. That would be beyond the bounds of human behavior - the “news media” prying into private matters. Then, somehow, the tide shifted - families wanted to talk about suicide, to keep young people from “committing” it. We realized, slowly, that people commit crimes, people commit sins, people commit adultery - so there was a “commit” stigma about suicide. It was something dirty. Not a topic for polite conversation.
I’m not saying it should be bandied around at the dinner table. But neither should people in this deep, dark place be classified as criminals - or worse. There are places to go for help and, yes, it might not work.
But, life is precious, and it is a chance you should take, if you are having these thoughts.
(1-800-273-8255, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Vic MacDonald is editor of The Clinton Chronicle. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Chronicle. MacDonald can be reached at 833-1900.)
A RESOURCE: The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is dedicated to saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide. AFSP creates a culture that’s smart about mental health through education and community programs, develops suicide prevention through research and advocacy, and provides support for those affected by suicide. The work we do focuses on eliminating the loss of life from suicide by: delivering innovative prevention programs, educating the public about risk factors and warning signs, raising funds for suicide research and programs, and reaching out to those individuals who have lost someone to suicide. Learn more about the AFSP SC Chapter at www.afsp.com/chapter/southcarolina and follow the AFSP SC Chapter on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Death Rates Rising Among Young and Middle-Aged U.S. Adults
New Report Recommends Urgent National Response
SYRACUSE (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Young and middle-aged adults ages 25-64 in the United States have been dying at higher rates since 2010, according to a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
The report, “High and Rising Mortality Rates Among Working-Age Adults,” says that rising death rates are striking working-age Americans whose risk of dying from certain conditions – such as drug overdoses, suicides, and hypertensive heart disease — has been climbing since the 1990s. According to the report, Americans are more likely to die before age 65 than peers in other rich nations.
Based on data from 1990-2017, the 454-page report documents a public health crisis sweeping the American workforce that has profound implications for families, communities, employers, and the U.S. economy.
“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, life expectancy had been declining in the U.S. for several years,” said Shannon Monnat, Lerner Chair of Public Health Promotion and an associate professor of sociology at Syracuse University who was a member of the committee that wrote the report. “Working-age Americans have been dying at an alarming rate over the past several years, but not just from drug overdoses.”
The rising death rate is due to drug overdoses, alcohol, suicides and cardiometabolic conditions — a category that includes diabetes and heart diseases caused by high blood pressure and other conditions. The report recommends urgent policy actions, including addressing the overdose epidemic and the underlying causes of substance use disorders more broadly, stronger efforts to tackle obesity, and policies to reduce inequities.
Death rates are higher and are increasing faster among working-age adults with less education and income and among those living in nonmetro areas. The report says that death rates among Black working-age adults have been disproportionately high for many years due to economic inequalities and inequities in health care, housing, education, and other factors, reflecting the legacy of structural racism. Although progress occurred at the turn of the century in reducing the mortality gap between Black and white Americans, death rates in working-age Black people are now increasing, effectively erasing that progress.
According to the report, the increase in working-age mortality is mainly driven by these causes:
-- Drugs, Alcohol and Suicide
Drugs and alcohol are major contributors to the rise in working-age mortality. From 1990 to 2017, fatal drug overdoses in working-age Americans increased in every state, but increases were especially large in Appalachia, New England, and the industrial Midwest.
The report describes the overdose epidemic as a “perfect storm” created by a market flooded with highly addictive and deadly prescription and illicit drugs, and mounting demand for substances to bring relief from physical, mental, and psychological pain.
“Drug poisoning deaths, including those caused by opioids, have been the single largest contributor to the rise in death rates among U.S. working-age adults,” Monnat said. “The U.S. overdose crisis represents a perfect storm of underlying vulnerabilities combined with exposure to highly addictive and lethal substances.”
The report also explores the rise in suicides, which was most dramatic for white men and those living in nonmetro areas.
-- Cardiometabolic Diseases
The report also focuses on rising deaths from cardiometabolic diseases, much of it caused by the health consequences (diabetes, hypertension, heart disease) of the obesity epidemic. Some of the most notable increases have been in the South and outside of large metropolitan areas. Young adults ages 25-44 have been especially affected because most were born after 1980 when the obesity epidemic began.
Younger adults have been more exposed to “obesogenic” environments — unhealthy diets and lack of safe, open space for exercise — for their entire lives. Compared to older adults, they became overweight at a younger age and are more likely to remain overweight or obese today.
To address working-age mortality and advance research and data collection, the report recommends these actions:
States that have not done so already should expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
Economic policies are needed to address the long-term economic and social strains and dislocations that made communities that experienced economic decline over the past four decades vulnerable to opioids and other drugs.
Obesity prevention programs should start early in life and target children and teens most at risk for obesity, including racial and ethnic minorities, people living in poverty, and women.
Government and private organizations should fund research on more effective ways to prevent substance use disorders, reduce obesity, improve heart health, enhance behavioral health services for mental illness, and help those who are struggling to stop smoking or obtain effective treatments for chronic diseases.
To reduce and ultimately eliminate racial/ethnic and other socio-economic inequalities that continue to drive racial/ethnic disparities in U.S. working-age mortality, policymakers and decision-makers at all levels of society will need to dismantle structural racism and discriminatory policies of exclusion in areas such as education, employment and pay, housing, lending, civic participation, criminal justice, and health care.
“Too many Americans are dying too young,” Monnat said. “Understanding the mess we are in requires us to come to terms with long-term economic and social decline and the policy failures that drove that decline.”
The study — undertaken by the Committee on Rising Midlife Mortality Rates and Socio-economic Disparities — was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The National Academies are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.