It begins with a story I have posted before. I have only changed one word. Instead of "eight" years, today marks "ten."
Even though today marks ten years, I can remember it so clearly. It was just a few hours before the clock struck twelve and it would be my husband’s birthday. He loves presents, but always makes it difficult for me to get the right thing. He acts as if his birthday doesn’t matter to him, but I do think he likes a bit of a fuss.When speaking about her experiences with the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), Teresa Pasquini wrote, "We were on the same team that nobody wanted to be picked for..." I never told her at the time, but it is a brilliant description.
The message on my phone wasn't very clear. There was a great deal of background noise. I could hardly hear him say, “Call me now, it’s an emergency!” I tried calling several times, but he wasn’t answering. Finally, I called my father-in-law and I could have never predicted what would come next. His voice was different; it was slow and soft as he calmly explained to me that my husband’s brother had just killed himself. He was 26 years old. It was incomprehensible. I couldn't make sense of it. Even after years of working in mental health, I could not even begin to grasp what I was hearing.
There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of him. He and my husband were best friends. Al was always there. He did everything with us. I remember he would come out on the boat with us. He never got out on the ski or wake board. He never drove either. He just liked to come along for the ride. He liked to spend time with his brother. The feeling was mutual. They were very close. Where you found one, you would very likely find the other.
It only takes a momentary glance to see the sadness in my husband’s eyes. I have come to know this silent sorrow all too well, because it dwells in our family. I have experienced other family members dying. I have talked about my father's death, which had a profound effect on me but this is different; there is a silence that accompanies suicide. The silence is deafening. Each December we are quiet, our conversation subdued, as his birthday passes and the holidays come and go. Then there is today’s date, and even though we rarely speak of the night he killed himself, we are all thinking about it. I don’t really know how to say it other than directly. I miss Alfred. I really miss him. There is so much silence. I wish we could talk about him more.
The team nobody wanted to be picked for.As I put together the list of stats below I had a shocking and painful realization. I am on this team! It's amazing how I never noticed before. It's been ten years and it never dawned on me that the list below applies to me and my family. I never wanted to be on this team, no one does. Worse yet, because of the stigma and silence that surrounds suicide, excluding a relatively small number of people, one knows very little about others on the team.
Like me and my family, about 3.7 million people in the U.S. currently mourn a loved one’s death by suicide, and the number grows by 190,000 each year.
So as you read the numbers below, I'd like you to consider this not as simply a list of bad news. Sadly, these are my teams stats.
Some facts about suicide from the World Health Organization (WHO)
•In the year 2000, approximately one million people died from suicide: a "global" mortality rate of 16 per 100,000, or one death every 40 seconds.
-It's 2010 now! How many have been lost? Read the next line--too many
•In the last 45 years suicide rates have increased by 60% worldwide. Suicide is now among the three leading causes of death among those aged 15-44 years (both sexes); these figures do not include suicide attempts up to 20 times more frequent than completed suicide.
•Suicide worldwide is estimated to represent 1.8% of the total global burden of disease in 1998, and 2.4% in countries with market and former socialist economies in 2020.
•Although traditionally suicide rates have been highest among the male elderly, rates among young people have been increasing to such an extent that they are now the group at highest risk in a third of countries, in both developed and developing countries.
•Mental disorders (particularly depression and substance abuse) are associated with more than 90% of all cases of suicide; however, suicide results from many complex socio-cultural factors and is more likely to occur particularly during periods of socioeconomic, family and individual crisis situations (e.g. loss of a loved one, employment, honor).
Unfortunately the list goes on.
There are however so many amazing people working to change these stats. I'm inspired by Contra Costa Crisis Center. When I read their Strategic Plan I noticed the number one objective listed was to "help people at risk for suicide stay alive." I recall reading the newsletter they sent out earlier this year about perfect depression care. I love the bold aim. I believe in bold aims. I also noted that they looked to The Henry Ford System's Depression Care Program for inspiration. What a great model. The rate of suicide in Henry Ford's patient population decreased by 75 percent from 89 per 100,000 patients to 22 per 100,000 in the first four years of the program's implementation, significantly lower than the annual rates for suicides in similar patient populations. For the last two and a half years, that rate has been zero per 100,000!
So many lost, so many left behind, all preventable...and with bold leaders like these, there is hope.