When the D.C. Madam’s suicide notes were released this week, I couldn’t help but notice the pain. . . the fear. . . the hopelessness. Regardless of the situation, suicide is never an acceptable solution. Suicide never solves problems but only creates a new level of difficulty for those left behind.
Having served in ministry and counseling settings for many years, I have had my fair share of dealings with suicide. My own experience is consistent with the premise that the victims come from all walks of life: a nurse, a banker’s husband, a public school superintendent, a medical doctor, an teenaged boy, a farmer, and a fifth grader — to name a few of them.
In dealing with the families of suicide victims, I am almost always met with wide-ranging responses, from “I can’t believe he would do this” to “There were signs that something wasn’t right.” Family members typically run the full gamut of emotions from shock and horror to outrage to self-blame — none of which is able to un-do the damage done by an independent self-destructive act.
There are many things we still don’t understand about suicide and why it happens. But there are some things we do know. For example, some groups are at higher risk than others. According to the Center for Disease Control, men are four times more likely than women to die from suicide. However, three times more women than men report attempting suicide. In addition, suicide rates are high among young people and those over age 65.
There are a variety of factors that can put a person at risk for attempting or committing suicide. However, having the risk factors does not always mean that suicide will take place. Risk factors include:
- Previous suicide attempt(s)
- History of depression or other mental illness
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Family history of suicide or violence
- Physical illness
- Feeling alone
Suicide is a significant public health problem. More than 31,000 people kill themselves each year. More than 425,000 people with self-inflicted injuries are treated in emergency rooms each year. (CDC, 2006) Don’t become a statistic. If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, even if you do not have an active plan to kill yourself, talk with someone about these thoughts. Help is available in a wide variety of places.
One of the things I hear over and over from those who are contemplating suicide is that they feel invisible to others, as if they really don’t count for anything. Many argue that they will not be missed by their families anyway. Perhaps the “D.C. Madam” felt this way too. Although she was widely recognized due to the handle assigned her by the news media, she was known by only a few. And those people will remember her not as the “D.C. Madam” but rather as Deborah Jeane Palfrey. A daughter. A sister. A friend. A human being.
In many cases, suicide attempts are not so much a cry for help as a cry for love.
I contend that there is no problem suicide can solve. Someone is always available to talk at the National Suicide Hotline, 1.800.273.8255. Your primary care doctor, police department, and local emergency room are also good sources for help.