South Carolina Lawyer
SC Lawyer, November 2007, #2.
Addressing the Unthinkable: How you can constructively deal with the problem of suicide
South Carolina Lawyer November 2007 Addressing the Unthinkable: How you can constructively deal with the problem of suicide By David Woolridge Can We Talk?
Suicide is one of those things that no one likes to talk, or even think, about. It is an awkward and uncomfortable subject. We don't like to acknowledge that, for some people, life seems not to be worth living. We don't like to admit that we might be subject to suicidal thoughts. Such thoughts may seem to be a great weakness or even a serious moral shortcoming. The act of suicide is gruesome and unpleasant to consider.
Perhaps we have had thoughts of suicide at some time in our lives, and the shame of those thoughts keeps us from discussing suicide with others. Perhaps shame comes from a different source - suicide or an attempt at suicide by friends or relatives, for which we (irrationally) feel shame by association. Perhaps, we are afraid that by talking about suicide with someone we increase the likelihood of its happening.
Similar to many problems in our society, we make the problem worse by our reluctance to talk about it, learn about it and do anything about it. But to reduce suicide, we must talk about suicide. We must learn a little about suicide. And we must be prepared to do something about suicide.
Is This Really a Problem?
Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in the United States.1 Typically, more than 30,000 people take their lives here each year. Another 250,000 people each year are reported as having attempted suicide and then received some formal medical attention.2 Firearms are used in 55 percent of completed suicides. Contrary to popular wisdom, more suicides occur in the spring than any other season.
Some groups are more likely to commit suicide than others, but it touches all sociological groups. Men are four times more likely to die from suicide than women, but women report attempting suicide at a rate three times more often than men. Lawyers, as a group, are twice as likely to commit suicide as the general public. Far too many lawyers in Alabama have taken their lives in the last several years.
Can We Do Anything About It?
There are many areas in which professionals in the field would prefer laymen not to meddle. Suicide prevention is NOT one of these areas. Health care professionals have developed various programs, such as "QPR" and "ASIST," to teach laymen when to intervene with a potential suicide and what to do about it.3 It is not complicated. The layman's role can be only a limited role - limited, but important. Like CPR and the Heimlich maneuver, intervention can be the essential first step to prevent a suicidal act.
The first premise of intervention is the finding by researchers that most individuals who attempted suicide gave identifiable signs to one or more persons in the weeks before the act. The signs were not made solely in the presence of family and close friends, but often were given to coworkers or acquaintances in contact with the individual during this critical period.
The second premise is that even a modest contact with another person - if of the right kind - can dissuade the person from acting, for at least a short critical period. With follow-up attention by...