Sunday, September 09, 2012

"He had arrived at a cliff, with an abyss before him and a fire behind him"

Meredith Melnick writes in Time Magazine Online today about World Suicide Prevention Day, which will take place on Monday, Sept. 10 (tomorrow):
Every day 3,000 people end their own lives, and for every person who dies, there are 20 more people who unsuccessfully attempt a suicide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In the United States alone, that amounts to one death by suicide every 16 minutes, says the National Council for Suicide Prevention (NCSP).

It’s a bit tricky to figure out how to honor World Suicide Prevention Day and so the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) and the WHO have collaborated on a list of activities for organizations to consider as a way to help support the cause. But what about individuals?

The NCSP launched a “Take 5 to Save Lives” campaign that summarizes how we can all help prevent suicide — simple steps like learning the signs of suicidal behavior, raising awareness by telling other people about the World Suicide Prevention Day, and asking for help if you are concerned about your own thoughts and behavior.
Some suggested activities include holding a press conference, writing an article for your local paper, distributing information about depression, posting the WSPD banner on your blog or web site, lobbying politicians about mental health issues and other activities. Seems to me that "spreading the word" is one of the most helpful things anyone can do, since the stigma surrounding depression and suicide seems to be the strongest barrier to prevention.

Cheyenne author Edith Cook wrote movingly in the Sept. 5 Wyoming Tribune-Eagle about her brother's and niece's suicides. The Sunday Denver Post carried a front-page story about the aftermath of the December 2011 suicide of one of the city's foremost philanthropists, Noel Cunningham. He hung himself in his basement. His wife, Tammy, found his body when she arrived home from work that evening:
"It was really difficult, because all I could see for the next couple weeks was Noel, and the way I found him."
Suicide is especially difficult on those loved ones left behind, especially if it arrives as a ghastly surprise, as it did with Mrs. Cunningham. While she tried to get her husband to open up about his inner pain, he never did.

The most moving and poetic quote from the Post article came from an unexpected place -- former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter's eulogy at the 62-year-old Cunningham's memorial service. He said that Cunningham's manic level of service to his community and to international hunger relief had a "dark brother:"
"Call it depression, or despondency, or despair, but it is real, and it has to be dealt with in this eulogy."


"Like many of us in this life," Noel had arrived at a cliff, with an abyss before him and a fire behind him, Ritter said.

"He did not see us, he could not see us, on the other side of the fire, pleading with him, telling him we love him, telling him that we will do anything, anything in the world for him, if he would just let us help him put out the fire, and bring him back from the cliff," Ritter said.

The final powerful lesson that Noel gave us all, Ritter said, "is that self-care matters too, even for the selfless."
Not bad for a politician known more for fiscal austerity than metaphor.

How many people in Wyoming are at this cliff today? Too many. Teens and aging white males are especially vulnerable, or so say the statistics. Wyoming's rapidly greying population has many of the latter group, and they tend to kill themselves in dramatically Western ways -- by gun and by rope.

So spread the word: "You don't have to face the abyss and the fire alone. I am your friend. I can help."

No comments: