Sunday, June 28, 2015

Statistics Don't Lie

Last week, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) released suicide statistics about suicide in each of the 50 states as well as the District of Columbia.  When I saw them putting them out on Twitter, I kept checking back and refreshing until they put up the Texas stats.  I immediately saved the picture and then began to absorb the information. 

For example, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among 15-34 year olds in the state and the third among persons 10-14. In cottage groups, a person is more likely to die by suicide than they are to be murdered. In fact, for the entire state of Texas, suicides outnumbered homicides 2 to 1. For those outside of the state, who envision Texas as the wild west, I am sure that comes as a surprise, and for those that live in the larger metropolitan areas such as Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, who are subjected to almost nightly reports of homicides on the evening news, might find that surprising as well.

 In my school district, as a teacher, I am required to review the evacuation plan with all my classes on the first day in case of fire, the lock down plan in case of an intruder, even the policy if a student comes in late or has to pee, but there is no mention of what a student is to do if they feel sad, or left out, or hopeless, or in so much emotional pain that they don't feel that they can go on. Now entering my 25th year in the classroom, I can count on one hand the number of fires and lock downs I have experienced, but would need to take off my shoes and socks to count the number of students that have taken their lives. 

Now the question here is why don't we know this?  The answer is simple, no one wants to talk about this dirty little secret.  I know that the news media, both print and broadcast, are hesitant to cover suicides, and if they do, the name of the deceased is rarely, if ever, published. Even if it is a suicide, it might be referred to as an accidental death.  Incidents such as one car accidents, drug overdoses,  even gun accidents might not be revealed for why they really are. Generally,  unless the suicide is that of a celebrity such as Robin Williams, or some other high profile person, the public remains uninformed.  This is a kind of double edged sword.  On one hand, I can understand not wanting to bring any more pain to the family to any more than they have already endured, but at the same, that ignorance can be fatal.

The time has come to educate the masses.  With 90% of suicides being carried out by people suffering from some sort of mental illness, the first step is removing the stigma.  Let those who have spent their lives suffering know that they are not alone, and that help is available.  Let the public know that those who do suffer are not the stereotypes that are common in the media and on TV.  Let those who live with a mentally ill person know that there is nothing to be ashamed of, that it ins't their fault, and the worst thing they can do is to hide it. 

As macabre as it sounds, despite the tragedy of Robin Williams's suicide, it was one of the best things that could have happened in the mental health community.  Williams's death actually made it okay to talk about mental health.  For the first time, people actually knew some one else that was dealing with the same demons they were.  Others realized that despite fame and riches, people can suffer silently, and even more so, hide how they really feel from the world.  Most of all, an uneducated public finally began talking about how real and  crippling emotional pain can be. 

Two months and two days after Robin Williams passed away after hanging himself, my son Peyton did the same thing.  This time, there was no media coverage, no headlines, no talking heads on the evening news speaking to a mental health professional about the why's and what's of suicide. There was just me, a bald 49 year old high school English teacher.  I made  vow to educate as many as I could to avoid having to hear about another person dealing with so much pain that their desire to end it causes them to take their life, or for a parent to deal with the gut wrenching pain of losing a loved one to suicide.  Thus far, the task has been difficult, and I have met with a great deal of resistance in my community, but if I can get a 16 year old to read, understand and even appreciate Whitman, Thoreau, Bierce, Crane and many others, then I can handle this as well.