Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How do we respond to suicide?

Local and national media today are reporting on the death of Chicago Board of Education President Michael Scott. It appears his death is a suicide. It is not entirely confirmed at this point whether he took his own life, but regardless -- I can't help but think about the prevalence of suicide and what might be done to prevent it.

Suicide affects people of all ages, backgrounds, places, and incomes. Anyone may struggle with feelings of depression -- even people who are leaders, who help others, and who look on the surface as if everything is fine. They deserve help and support.

One thing that bothers me is that while the media reports on a death such as this, the major issue of mental illness is still buried in the coverage when this is actually an opportunity to shine light and create healing possibilities.

An estimated 90% of people who commit suicide have a mental illness, most of whom were not being treated. It's common for people with mental illness, such as depression, to go years and years without diagnosis and treatment, sometimes ten years or more. This is a heartbreaking problem -- but there is an upside, right? There is a known way to help. If more people have the comfort level, knowledge, and the resources to seek treatment, they can find help that works and lead healthier lives. I think the quote below explains this better than I can:
"We've got to start earlier, and the college campus ought to be a major focus of our efforts to de-stigmatize mental illness. Certainly at that point we ought to make sure that everybody is educated about the nature and importance of mental illness and the good news about our ability to treat it. That's the real message. That is what's going to de-stigmatize it -- the very fact that 80-90% of the time, we can return people to productive lives and positive relationships."

-- David Satcher, MD, PhD, Former U.S. Surgeon General, speaking in his keynote address to the American College Health Association's 2000 Annual Meeting

I'll end this post with a few resources related to suicide, how it affects us, and how to help prevent it.
  • This Saturday, November 21st, is National Survivors of Suicide Day, with events across the nation. Erasing the Distance will have an info table at Chicago's event, from 11:00 AM - 3:30 PM. The schedule includes the National Survivor's Day video to be shown at noon at the same time across the U.S., and a Chicago-area survivors panel where other survivors share what they have done as part of the grieving process and answer questions. To register for the Chicago conference, click here.
  • The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, in addition to organizing the National Survivors of Suicide Day conferences, provides more resources such as listing risk factors, ways to help, and research about suicide and mental illness, which can all be found by navigating the tabs "About Suicide" on their website.
  • This links to a list of warning signs and what to do to help someone who may be suicidal. While I'm not familiar with the organization that hosts this link, it's definitely a great list and many of these topics are things that Erasing the Distance addresses hands-on and in more depth in our teacher/faculty trainings. NAMI of Greater Chicago is a wonderful organization which also has resources with fast facts, risk factors, and what to do if you suspect a loved one is contemplating suicide.
  • As with many mental illnesses, one big way to start to help someone who is suffering is to show that you are willing to listen to them, that you take the person seriously, to show concern, and to have knowledge of other professional resources you can suggest where they can find more help.
  • We can help to fight the stigma surrounding mental illness. Learn more about Erasing the Distance and how we use theatre to shed light on mental illness, spark dialogue, and connect people to resources that support well-being.
If you found this helpful, will you consider posting a link to this blog on your facebook page, or emailing it to a friend? The more people that help to destigmitize mental illness, the closer we will be to a world where people can find the support they need to treat illnesses such as depression and stop suffering alone.
Thanks for reading,
~ Oriana at Erasing the Distance

Shedding light on mental illness through theatre

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