The Times West Virginian

Opinion

May 3, 2013

Awareness and education key in the effort to prevent suicide

There are so many emotions a person can go through during the course of a day.

Happiness. Frustration. Sadness. Relief.

But for many people, those feelings are intensified by stress, mental disorders, medication, addictions or depression. And while many walk around with smiles on their faces to hide their internal strife, the long hours alone are more than they can bear. For those without loved ones, a support system or who are incapable of communicating their despair, their path may lead to self-destructive behavior or even taking their own life.

Those of us left behind rarely understand it. We talk in terms of people “having so much to live for” or that someone “seemed so happy” following a suicide. Yet none of us had to live a moment in their minds, when moving forward with life for one more day or one more hour was unbearable.

We don’t understand it. And we’re left behind to deal with it, to accept it, to move forward without loved ones in our lives.

In the past 10 years, the suicide rate for middle-aged Americans sharply rose 28 percent, leaving even scientists to wonder what would make someone want to end his own life. A study released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that during that time period, the suicide rate for white men and women in that age group rose by 40 percent. That age group accounts for 57 percent of the suicides. The overall national suicide rate climbed from 12 suicides per 100,000 people in 1999 to 14 per 100,000 in 2010 — a 15 percent increase.

A leading theory for such a sharp rise in suicides for those ages 35 to 64 is the impact of the recession on individuals who may not have had an extended family or church group or other means of emotional support.

Another theory is that baby boomers have always had a higher rate of suicides, and that holds true, too, for the 1999 to 2010 timeframe.

But whatever the cause, within that decade, suicide rose up the ranks as the fourth leading cause of death among middle-age Americans, only behind cancer, heart disease and accidents. And while efforts for suicide prevention have been concentrated on teens and seniors in the past, it’s clear that something must be done for those in the middle.

We know of one local effort to provide support for families who have lost loved ones to suicide as well as getting the message out for those who need help. Messages for Hope, a support group started by a couple who lost their daughter to suicide in 2008, has teamed up with the recently founded Project SLB Foundation for a suicide prevention and awareness walk in Fairmont. The Walk for Suicide Prevention in Fairmont will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 1, at Palatine Park.

To pre-register for the walk or to find out more about support groups in Fairmont, visit www.healingheartsofsurvivors.org, or register the day of the walk at 10 a.m.

With the release of such alarming statistics, we encourage everyone who has been touched by the death of a friend or loved one by their own hand to join this cause. Awareness and education are key.

If just one soul who is tortured by hopelessness and despair can find a lifeline, then maybe we can stop this epidemic one person at a time. We need to learn the signs of depression, make sure that mental help is available and affordable, and reach out and let people know that life is worth living.

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