When I first became a minister it seemed like I only had to officiate at a funeral for a suicide every two to three years. Now it seems that I do such funerals 2-3 times each year.
According to the National Institute for Mental Health, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for 34,598 deaths annually.1 They also report that there are an estimated 11 attempted suicides for every suicide death and that almost four times as many males as females die by suicide.1 Though I have not kept written records, in my recollection, I believe that every funeral I have done for suicide victims were for men.
Though we often think that high school students are most the likely to commit suicide, the college age population actually has nearly twice the rate of suicide as high school students. However, most of the funerals I have done for suicides have been adult men, most of who were married and had children.
Family members often ask me why their husband, father or son took such drastic action. To be honest, I seldom have an answer that I feel is adequate. I usually try to remind families that certain risk factors contribute to suicidal tendencies more than others. For example depression, mental illness, and substance-abuse account for more than 90 percent of people who die by suicide each year.2 Therefore, if those factors are present in the family dynamic, we should be more concerned. Though less common, sometimes people commit suicide because other members of their family took that path. That is one reason why families need to be open about discussing this issue so that we can find healthy ways to express our feelings on this issue. On rare occasions people commit suicide because they are unable to deal with the trauma of physical or sexual abuse. People who have had terrible things happen to them should seek help from a trusted friend, who should in turn help them find a professional who is skilled in helping people overcome such trauma.
Though we may never understand exactly what a person was thinking when they decided to take their own life, people who attempt suicide often say that they felt that their problems were too great to overcome. When people are that overwhelmed, they are often not thinking clearly. They are often facing real life issues that are quite significant and may require complex solutions. However, their problems could be overcome with the help of a strong support network and professional assistance. Unfortunately, they choose the path of suicide instead of reaching out for help. Suicide becomes a permanent answer to the temporary problems they were facing. Suicide does not solve any of the issues. Suicide actually increases stress on the families who are left behind and normally makes the issues that were being dealt with harder to address than before. Suicide is NEVER the right answer.
Medical professionals have a number of ways to treat people with suicidal tendencies. Since each person is unique and each situation is different, the methods used to help people overcome these feelings are individualized to that specific person. What works for one person might not work for another and vice versa. But EVERY person can be helped!
Honestly, I’m tired of burying my friends and their loves ones. It hurts so much. I think it is time that we overcome the uncomfortable feelings we have about discussing this issue and talk openly about suicide. Talking about suicide is not being insensitive to the feelings of others. On the contrary, discussing suicide expresses great love for others when we are willing to overcome our own uncomfortable feelings for the sake of someone’s well being.
The National Institute for Mental Health gives this advice:
“If you think someone is suicidal, do not leave him or her alone. Try to get the person to seek immediate help from his or her doctor or the nearest hospital emergency room, or call 911. Eliminate access to firearms or other potential tools for suicide, including unsupervised access to medications.
If you are in a crisis and need help right away call this toll-free number, available 24 hours a day, every day: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You will reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a service available to anyone. You may call for yourself or for someone you care about. All calls are confidential.”
Some of the above material was adapted from: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/suicide-in-the-us-statistics-and-prevention/index.shtml