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Suicide in the Public Eye

By Ariel Hyunseo Kim, Managing Editor

Graphic by Madeline Lee, Graphics Editor

There’s an epidemic that kills more young people than cancer, heart disease, liver disease, stroke, and HIV combined: it takes the lives of 42,000 Americans every year. Despite this, public funding for researching this epidemic makes up only a quarter of the money spent on researching inflammatory bowel disease. This epidemic is suicide, the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. Suicide costs the U.S. $44 billion annually. If it were a physical illness, we would have taken action a long time ago.

What keeps us from taking action? There is a stigma surrounding suicide made up of fear, misunderstanding, ignorance, and shame. Take, for instance, legislation for suicide — killing oneself is a crime in many countries. Moreover, according to the Center for Suicide Prevention, even the language we use when we refer to suicide — “committing suicide” — equates suicide with homicide and fratricide, suggesting that suicide is “self-murder.” People who kill themselves are considered cowards, deemed selfish; those who attempt suicide are considered attention-seekers.

Before taking any steps to treat and prevent the suicide epidemic, we must first dismantle the stigma surrounding it. The stigma that surrounds suicide negatively affects those who are considering suicide. They don’t want to be seen as cowards or attention-seekers. This results in them not getting the help they need; those bereaved by suicide are uncertain about how they can approach others about their grief. Stigma often keeps those in need from openly talking about their issues or concerns with their family members or close friends.

So what can we do to eliminate the shame and stigma surrounding suicide? We can encourage more conversation surrounding suicide, especially with people in close relationships with us. This may help them feel more open about conversing about their griefs.

It’s time that we treat suicide as a public health issue. Using a public health approach to suicide means we can control the immediate response and education on a large scale. We can focus on approaches that can impact groups of people, rather than concentrating on single individuals at a time. Furthermore, taking a public health approach means researching, evaluating, and addressing a broad range of risk factors and focusing on preventative methods. It also means that key stakeholders, such as politicians, healthcare workers, and lawmakers will be playing a role in tackling this epidemic.

We must first look for ways to detect signs for suicidal thoughts earlier — we should not only make depression screenings part of every primary care visit, but also increase the funding for suicide training among medical professionals, especially for those serving minorities or underserved populations. Having healthcare facilities adopt a more integrated approach to healthcare by eliminating the barrier between mental and physical health in primary care settings, earlier detection, along with the removal of stigma, can be achieved.

The American Public Health Association (APHA) suggests the implementation of three core interventions to help prevent suicide:

  1. Separating suicidal individuals from firearms or other weapons that could be used for self-harm

  2. Providing psychotherapy in emergency care

  3. Adding a car safety feature to prevent suffocation from carbon monoxide inhalation (this would reduce suicide deaths by 20%)

Through the widespread adoption of various suicide prevention programs including the ones mentioned in this article, we can make a significant impact on the lives of those who are considering suicide. Using a public health approach can increase the sheer number of individuals reached through those programs.


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