Out of all the mental health topics, suicide may have the largest stigma around it. When someone commits suicide, it seems as though no one wants to talk about it. It’s a topic that is considered “taboo” yet suicide continues to end the lives of men and women every single day. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and is the 3rd leading cause for 15 to 24-year-olds. Men are 3.5 times more likely to commit suicide than women. Although the statistics can be scary, there are ways to help end the stigma and become aware of the warning signs and symptoms of someone who is having suicidal thoughts.
Talk About It and Break Down the Stigma
The topic of suicide has been top of mind for many people recently because of the Netflix original series “13 Reasons Why,” which was released in March. The show has drawn national attention to a slew of mental health-related issues such as depression, bullying, rape and suicide. The series features 17-year-old Hannah Baker, who we learn in the first episode has committed suicide. Baker left behind 13 tapes that she recorded prior to ending her life, in which she explains the 13 reasons why she made the decision to do so.
Adapted from a best-selling novel by Jay Asher, “13 Reasons Why” was produced by mental health advocate and singer/actress Selena Gomez. After receiving criticism from mental health experts who cited the series as “glamorizing suicide,” Gomez responded that it’s not an easy subject to talk about, and that she wanted to start the conversation for teenagers and their parents.
Dani Singer, founder of Therapy Threads and licensed marriage and family therapist said, “In my opinion, the show overall did not represent depression, mental health and the warning signs of suicide, in the best and most accurate way. However, the controversial fears of many other people who believe that the show is possibly glorifying suicide, in reality the biggest benefit of the show is that it's getting people talking about it! The show still conveys an important message of how we treat each and how much our actions impacts everyone, and how important of a topic this is. Suicide is 100 percent preventable, and like the show's main character, Clay said, we need to do better for younger generations by constantly finding better ways to educate, advocate, evaluate and assess for depression and suicide in the school systems. We also need to find better ways of handling and preventing bullying and harassment at schools by providing support, treatment but ultimately prevention. We need to teach our children about kindness, empathy, respect and being included. It all comes down to breaking down the mental health stigma, including the stigma of asking for help!”
Know the Warning Signs/Risk Factors
When you look at the different characters in the show, it wasn’t just Hannah that showed symptoms of someone who could be struggling with a mental illness and/or having suicidal thoughts. In fact, it could be argued that the show didn’t exactly make it clear that Hannah was suffering from a mental illness such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or PTSD, with the exception of the very last episode in the series, in which she ultimately ends her life.
Jessica, for example, showed more signs and symptoms of someone who was battling depression than Hannah did, including excessive drinking, drug use, partying, withdrawing, isolating herself from friends and family, loss of interest in school and extracurricular activities, etc.
On the other hand, Alex also showed a lot of signs or someone having suicidal thoughts, and the final episode, the show ends on a cliffhanger suggesting that Alex even attempted to commit suicide. Alex’s warning signs included feelings of hopelessness, anger, reckless behavior (driving recklessly and getting in fights), irritability, apathy, loss of sense of future, powerlessness, loss of interest, etc.
Unlike Hannah, they both were also experiencing grief, tremendous fear, guilt, shame and ultimately trauma from the tapes, and being blamed for causing Hannah to end her life, someone they both knew very well, to suicide.
How Breaking Down the Stigma of Mental Health Prevents Suicide
The stigma comes down to the feeling of shame. Because so many people have so much shame associated with having depression, or any mental illness, the emotion of shame in itself tells that there's something wrong with us that we need to hide. It causes to many people to avoid seeking the treatment they need and deserve because they are fearful of being judged by others, including friends and family, or that they will be viewed as "crazy." There is also a stigma around seeking therapy or professional help as a whole, in that it won't work, it’s not valuable, or the fear of what others will think if they know other are going to therapy or are seen coming out of a therapy office. Some people have negative connotations with therapy because of the stigma, or possibly previous bad experience if they didn't receive good treatment or find the right fit regarding therapy treatment, a therapist or medication. We must continue to break down the stigma by openly talking about suicide and mental illnesses and know the warning signs in order to ultimately prevent it from happening.