When discussing suicide: Sharing stories of hope and recovery

I talked a lot last week about the CDC Technical Packet I read on suicide, and I have one more item in it that I want to discuss.

There’s a section in the packet (“Lessen Harms and Prevent Future Risk”) which applies to anyone who has ever walked down the dark path of suicidal ideation – or even suicide attempts – and come back. Under the approaches subheading, the report says:

Safe reporting and messaging about suicide. The manner in which information on a recent suicide is communicated to the public (e.g., school assemblies, mass media, social media) can heighten the risk of suicide among vulnerable individuals and can inadvertently contribute to suicide contagion. Reports that are inclusive of suicide prevention messages, stories of hope and resilience [italics added by me], risk and protective factors, and links to helping resources (e.g., hotline), and that avoid sensationalizing events or reducing suicide to one cause, can help reduce the likelihood of suicide contagion.

Later, in the evidence section, the report notes:

Finally, research suggests that not only does reporting on suicide in a negative way (e.g., reporting on suicide myths and repetition) have harmful effects on suicide, but reporting on positive coping skills in the face of adversity can also demonstrate protective effects against suicide. Reports of individual suicidal ideation (not accompanied by reports of suicide or suicide attempts) along with reports describing a “mastery” of a crisis situation where adversities were overcome [italics added by me] was associated with significant decreases in suicide rates in the time period immediately following such reports

So, let’s talk about that for a second, because this is important. Many have discussed suicide, and whenever there is a high profile suicide in the media, reports often discuss specific methods and details. That’s bad.  As the report above clearly demonstrates, the way in which suicide is discussed in society can have an extremely positive or negative affect on impact rates.

And here’s the part which specifically touches all of us who have been there: There’s something potentially life saving about sharing your story.

Describe it. Tell people about your darkness. Tell them how suicide was something you considered. Maybe even attempted. Tell them the truth – be open and honest with your experiences. But don’t just emphasize the sadness. Talk about how you found your way back. Talk about how you fought your demons, and thanks to X, Y and Z, are now in recovery. You don’t have to pretend that everything is perfect – in that, that likely won’t ring true. But what I think people can and should say is that they no longer want to end their lives – that they want to live, to fight on, and to lead a good life. This is what I tried to do when I shared my specific story of suicidal ideation in the aftermath of the Anthony Bourdian and Kate Spade suicides.

If you can, I’d encourage you to tell your story, and do so as noted above. I truly believe that doing so can save lives.

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