Approximately 20 veterans die every day from suicide in America. By now, you have certainly heard some form of this statistic. This disturbing and unacceptable fact has become a rallying cry during the past decade in marshalling support for efforts to bring an end to veteran suicide in America. It has generated numerous grassroots groups around the country in support of this effort, such as Mission 22, an organization created to link military veterans together in an effort to raise awareness and enlist support in completing this most important mission. And while millions of dollars have been spent by the government toward understanding what causes the post-war surges in suicides, a clear answer has yet to emerge.
The fact that many veterans returning from the war zone are at risk of taking their own lives can never be in dispute – it is at least 21 percent higher than civilian adults. When these service members leave the military, they can become even more vulnerable. But the perception that these warriors are damaged individuals – that suicidal tendencies point to an extremely abnormal condition – may not only be a false perception, but part of the problem.
Gaining an understanding of why people take their own lives is a mission that extends beyond the military. According to the World Health Organization, somewhere in the world, someone commits suicide every 40 seconds. We need to start to see the issue in its widest possible context if we are to start to finally address suicide as the global health crisis it is; and as a major part of any discussion of preventable death.
According to new research presented at the recent 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting, the percentage of younger children and teens in the United States hospitalized for suicidal thoughts or actions doubled over the last decade. According to the Center on Disease Control, every day on average 16 young people in American are taking their lives. Overall, suicide rates in this country have gone up 28 percent since 2000 and are now pervasive among most all age groups.
Globally, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds, according to the World Health Organization. Suicide is now the leading cause of death among young people in the United Kingdom.
We have seen the global eradication of diseases. We have seen societies take on smoking, traffic accident rates, and drug addiction with a zero-tolerance approach. Where is that same commitment when it comes to reducing deaths from suicide?
Of course we want to end veteran suicide in America. Is it not also about time we make zero the target for suicide across the board? Doing so has to start with removing the old thinking that suicides are inevitable, that they are the result of a deliberate action, a conscious choice. It is only very recently that there has been a scientific movement away from such fatalistic views.
“They’re ‘intent on it’ is the phrase you hear,” David Covington president and CEO of RI International, a mental-health service provider based in Phoenix tells reporter Simon Usborne for a recent article in the Guardian. “So there is this strange logic that individuals who die couldn’t be stopped because they weren’t going to seek care and tell us what was going on.”
As Usborne explains in his report, this thinking ignores evidence to the contrary that has been around for at least 25 years. In 1978, Richard Seiden, then a professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health, was able to locate and interview 515 people who had been stopped from jumping to their death from the Golden Gate Bridge between 1937 and 1971. Ninety-four per cent were still alive, or had died of natural causes. Further studies revealed that, of the 25 or 26 people who have survived jumping from the Golden Gate bridge and are still alive, 19 have said they felt instant regret the second their hand left the rail. Dr. Seiden goes on to state that the act of suicide must be seen as separate from the thought of suicide; that simple intervention can dramatically reduce suicide rates.
What is needed is a coordinated global strategy to reform old attitudes and approaches in confronting the problem. A commitment to preventing suicide by providing easier access to crisis care and better safety plans for patients. Removing the means of suicide has also now become a growing part of modern prevention strategies. Also needed is a well-funded and better-coordinated communication strategy to reform these old attitudes and the stigma that surrounds suicide; to challenge the myths about inevitability and selfishness that still exists about it.
It’s time it took hold in this country. The suicide rate among teenage girls, long on the rise, hit a 40-year high in 2015, according to a new analysis from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We can no longer view those who have suicidal thoughts as part of an extremely abnormal condition in this country. They are part of a disturbing trend.
If you know someone who is vulnerable, it is important not to leave that person alone, but to offer help. A good resource is the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.