Thursday, May 08, 2008

Washington State: Becoming Two-Faced About Suicide

Why is assisted suicide always treated as if life were lived in a vacuum? Case in point: The suicide statistics in Washington are, according to a newspaper report "terrifying," and yet, many newspapers editorially support legalizing assisted suicide--which at the very least sends a terribly mixed message to the despairing thinking of taking their own lives. From the story:

Suicide statistics are terrifying. In 2005, there were 32,637 reported suicide deaths in the United States - 822 of those were in Washington State. An estimated 19 million Americans suffer from depression. Depression, combined with certain conditions including anxiety, isolation, drug and/or alcohol use or abuse, physical or emotional illness, and feelings of hopelessness or desperation, increases the risk for suicide.

"Ninety percent of people who die by suicide actually have undiagnosed psychiatric disorders," said AFSP Executive Director Robert Gebbia. In addition to depression, those include bipolar disorder, eating disorders and substance abuse. Gebbia believes that by raising awareness through the Out of the Darkness event, the stigma associated with mental illness can be reduced and more people can be helped. "When someone has died by suicide, people think somehow it's the victim's fault," he said. "We don't agree with that. It is a complication of an illness, just the way things go wrong with the heart or liver. When people see it as a complication of illness, we can reduce the stigma."
I don't want to stigmatize anyone, but I do believe that societal disapproval of suicide saves lives. But placing the state's imprimatur on some suicides does the opposite--it says killing yourself can be the right thing to do. And that is like telling someone not to smoke, but if they do use filter cigarettes: It totally dilutes the message.

The story then presents valuable information on what to do if someone you know is suicidal:
All suicide threats and attempts must be taken seriously...
- Take the initiative to ask what is troubling them and persist to overcome any reluctance to talk about it.
- If professional help is indicated, the person you care about is more apt to follow such a recommendation if you have listened to him or her.
- Don't be afraid to ask whether he or she is considering suicide, or even if they have a particular plan or method in mind.
- Do not attempt to argue anyone out of suicide. Rather, let the person know you care and understand, that he or she is not alone, that suicidal feelings are temporary, that depression can be treated and that problems can be solved.
- Encourage the person to see a physician or mental health professional immediately. Go with them if necessary...
- If the above options are unavailable, call your local emergency number or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
(Not applicable for residents of Oregon or Washington (if I 1000 passes) and the suicidal person has cancer or ALS. In such cases, get a doctor to prescribe them poison pills.)

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