A man I knew well and considered a friend killed himself this last week. The feelings that wash over us survivors might mirror the feelings of the victim: anger, sadness, despair, failure. I will admit to all those. I imagine someone close to you has killed themselves. I am sorry. It sounds so inadequate, doesn’t it? What else can we offer?
Like any painful issue, if we are not willing to look at it, talk about it, try to understand and respond, then it will stay with us. We might get better at hiding the pain, denying the pain, but it’s still there. And if our best response after honest reflection is prayer, then let us pray. I will join in the prayer.
Let me offer some numbers for this moment of reflection. Idaho has consistently been in the top ten in states for rate of death by suicide; 8th nationally in 2016. The rate of death by suicide for Idahoans is over 50% above the national average. In Idaho, suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 15-34. Teen suicide rates are higher than our overall suicide rates. Did you know the highest rate of suicide is in men over 80?
But numbers don’t tell a story, do they? I got my share of stories as a county coroner. Suicides, like homicides or any “unnatural” death got the time and attention (and tax dollars) of this lowly public servant. I will admit to a pretty libertarian viewpoint toward suicide early in my career. We are all going to die. So what if someone makes the choice? I did not see it as a mortal sin, but then I was not brought up in that faith. But so many of the deaths I struggled to come to peace with, beyond the mere investigation; I changed my view.
The many older men (some my age) failing in their strength, their independence who chose to end their lives, I could somewhat accept, though I could hear the pain and suffering in their loved ones.
The ones who had struggled with addiction or depression, sometimes were not a surprise to their family. But I could clearly hear the sense of failure, their sadness, their shared despair at the loss.
But the young deaths, sometimes impetuous, fueled by anger or lubricated with substances or an impetuous nature left me very burdened. And I am sure their families still struggle.
I have come to believe suicide, like homicide deserves our attention, our investment as a society. Not all violent deaths can be prevented. But if we cannot prevent all, should we give up on preventing some? If we as neighbors, as fellow citizens are not willing to even make such a commitment, what does that say about us, the survivors?
I am proud that Idaho has made this commitment. You taxpayers invested in this, with the legislatures and the governor’s approval. In 2016 a small investment was made to coordinate existing suicide prevention programs, to educate youth, to support the statewide hotline, and advance public awareness. Like all investments, we need to pay attention to the wisdom of each dollar spent. But it’s about time we did something. There is so much to do.