Waking Up To Suicide

Did you know that September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month? This recognition of suicide in our society is now highlighted every year at this time. Many federal departments, national foundations, and small support groups are attempting to increase public awareness about our country’s plague of self-inflicted death–its precursors, warning signs, and possible interventions. This is also an opportunity for families and friends to join together and to mourn those who have fallen prey to the depression and hopelessness that leads them to take their own lives.

Painting by Yvan Favre no. 166 2014

But how much do you really understand about suicide? You may be like many others–those who have always avoided the issue and now discover that they actually know very little and are stunned by the facts. Here are some important ones, all reported by reliable agencies for 2015:

Annual U.S. Suicide Statistics

  • There is one suicide every 12 minutes (world-wide, one every 40 seconds)
  • Level of suicide has risen to a 30 year high
  • 500,000 visit E.R.’s for attempted suicide
  • Twelve people attempt suicide for everyone who succeeds
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death while homicide ranks 17th
  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults
  • 9.3 million have suicidal thoughts
  • 2.7 million make a plan
  • 1.3 million make an attempt
  • More men and women in the military die from suicide than from combat
  • Since 1999, the rise in girls ages 10-14 attempting suicide has tripled
  • Suicide costs $51 billion in medical and work loss costs
  • There are 250,000 suicide survivors each year
  • Only 50% of all depressed people get treatment 

When I was twenty-one, my mother killed herself with carbon monoxide in the garage of our Massachusetts home. She was only forty-five. I mourned her for twenty-four years without truly understanding her last act–until, in 1998, I arrived at the turning point of my own forty-fifth birthday, and became overwhelmed by the same sort of bipolar depression she had experienced. In that year, with great shame and the belief that there was no other way to end my pain, I succumbed three times to the urge to end the desolation that I woke to every day.

The following seven years of illness, which came to a gradual end in 2004, now seem a long time ago. Thanks to modern medicine, which has found many new answers to treating bipolar disorder, using both effective medications as well as different psychiatric approaches, I was able to recover. I feel safe once again, though I maintain a careful regimen of medication that is supported by therapy.

Depression is no longer a part of my life, even though some emotional issues, like anxiety and sadness, play a role as I wander along the path I have charted for myself. I documented my experiences with mental illness–both my mother’s and my own–in my memoir, Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide, as a way of reaching out to those who suffer from debilitating depression, as well as their families and friends. I receive a great number of candid and moving e-mails about this particular book.

I wish my mother had been alive during these critical discoveries in the world of medicine. I wish she had been diagnosed correctly, prescribed appropriate medications, and treated properly by physicians who, at that time, resorted to shock therapy and tranquilizers as the only solutions for the problems presented by a depressed and suicidal person.

I now hope that this September we will all join hands together and, with increased awareness, try to begin to prevent this scourge that ruins so many lives. For those just learning about suicide, may you investigate it further–even if scrutinizing this difficult subject is limited to reading only one of this month’s numerous magazine articles. May you acknowledge, and accept, that someday you might have to deal with a person special to you who suffers the pain of depression and the longing for it all to end. May we remember those who have taken their own lives. And may we all pray, or even just hope, that they have found some kind of peace.

If you or someone you know needs guidance through the darkness, please consider the following:


National Suicide Prevention Hotline




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