Are Good Intentions Obscuring the Real Story?
In the wake of the spate of suicides by LGBT youth, we have seen the media and celebrities both focusing on the supposed "fact" that these deaths were caused by bullying of gay youth and homophobia in general.
While there is certainly no place for the bullying of anyone regardless of race, color, creed, sex or sexual orientation acceptable in our society, and we are right to be outraged that it is a common occurrence, the simple truth is that bullying did not cause these deaths.
These deaths, like the thousands of suicides and attempted suicides that occurred on the very same days worldwide, were caused by ignorance, shame, apathy, stigma and a lack of infrastructure in our society to deal with mental illness.
According to the National Institute of Mental Heath (NIMH), "In 2007 (the latest year accurate statistics are available), suicide was the third leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24."
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) reports figures compiled by the World Health Organization show that, "Each year approximately one million people in the world die by suicide. This toll is higher than the total number of world deaths each year from war and homicide combined." The leading reporting agencies also estimate that there are 10-20 suicide attempts for every suicide completion.
Suicide is not a normal response to stress. It is often said that persons with severe mental illness will seek severe solutions. Suicide is most certainly a severe and abnormal solution to any problem. AFSP reports that "95% of college students who commit suicide suffer from mental illness, most commonly Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). . . .
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists "Unwillingness to seek help because of the stigma attached to mental health and substance abuse disorders or to suicidal thoughts" as a major contributing risk factor for suicide.
While there is no downside to raising awareness about the suffering of LGBT youth at the hands of bullies and taking measures to stop this horrific behavior, let us not become so focused on the precipitating factors in a tiny number of cases that the opportunity to educate and enlighten people to the epidemic of suicide slips through our fingers.
We should seize this moment to raise awareness of suicide and it’s root cause, mental illness. Shine a light in the dark corners of a society that sees mental illness as a weakness, a character flaw or a personal failing.
Only education, understanding and ending the stigma attached to mental illness and MDD can truly move us closer to preventing the kinds of tragedies that we have witnessed recently.
Authors Note: I was diagnosed with a "nervous condition" at the age of ten. My pediatrician prescribed sedatives. Like most people 40 years ago, my mother tried to understand me without admitting the possibility that I suffered from a mental illness. I attempted suicide when I was 18 years old and with the love and support of my family, finally got treatment from a mental health professional. It has been slow going, akin to climbing a sheer rock face. Progress is tough, treacherous and much of the time is spent just hanging on for dear life. I "came out" only in recent years. I had spent most of my life running from the "stigma". No more. I’m doing my part to help end the stigma and save lives by speaking up and speaking out.