The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines suicide as, “death caused by self-directed injurious behavior with an intent to die as a result of the behavior.” And every year, according to the World Health Organization, somewhere around 800,000 people on the planet commit suicide.
That computes to one suicide every 40 seconds. For every suicide committed, an estimated 135 people are affected, which puts the total number of people affected at 108 million people per year.
On top of that, for every suicide committed there are 25 other instances where someone attempted suicide or thought about it. That is according to the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP). Including suicide ideation — which the CDC defines as “thinking about, considering, or planning suicide” — some 20 million people, which is about the population of Romania, are annually contemplating, committing or trying to commit suicide.
Since you started reading this article, someone very likely went through with it.
Julie Phillips, a sociologist at Rutgers, told the New York Times, “We are seeing somewhat more tolerant attitudes toward suicide.”
Younger people are more likely “to believe [they] have the right to die under certain circumstances, like incurable disease, bankruptcy, or being tired of living,” than older people are, Phillips said.
Suicide has become a staple of American culture. This type of death has affected so many, it has infiltrated mainstream society. The realities of suicide are present in music, television shows, cinema, literature and social media. It is part of the celebrity culture. It has touched many families.
The proliferation of suicide in culture makes one wonder: are people committing suicide because of media and culture influence, or is the media and culture just reflecting a phenomena?
Most college students, especially at Las Positas, have been raised on media and culture. Students have their existence shaped around media and social media. For young adults, dealing with suicide is inescapable.
With September 10 being World Suicide Prevention Day, which coincides National Suicide Prevention Week in September, this is a natural time to ask a deep questions.
Are today’s college students more vulnerable to suicide? Suicide is one of the top causes of death in people aged 15 to 29.
It’s possible that a main cause of this is the accessibility to the internet. In the study “Social Media and Suicide: A Public Health Perspective,” the National Institutes of Health suggest that the internet provides “how-to descriptions of suicide.” A similar study concludes that as the internet has become more popular, suicide rates have “positively correlated.”
On April 28, 2017, popular rapper Logic released a new single, featuring singers Alessia Cara and Khalid. The song spent 42 weeks on the Billboard charts, getting as high as No. 3 in September.
The song was called 1-800-273-8255. That number might look familiar. It is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a confidential call line that is available 24 hours per day to people in distress.
The first verse of the song and the first hook speaks from the perspective of someone calling the hotline because they are having suicidal thoughts. The second verse and hook is the operator who answers the call trying to convince the person the value of being alive.
“Switching up the perspective in the second verse, to me, is everything,” Logic said in an interview for Genius, a website that explains song lyrics. “because that’s the person going like, ‘Hey this is not permanent. The way you feel, it’s ok. Things will get better.’”
Logic, along with the featured artists, performed the song at the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards. Joining him on stage, according to a USA Today story, was 50 suicide attempt survivors and loss survivors.
The night of the performance, phone calls to the hotline increased by 50 percent.
Studies show these hotlines work. According to Dr. Madelyn Gould from Columbia University, 80 percent of Lifeline callers said that Lifeline had something to do with keeping them alive. Almost 50 percent of callers followed through with a counselor’s referral to seek emergency services or contacted mental health services.
Depression is the leading causes, among several, that leads to suicide. Another person considered a high-risk factor is someone who has previously attempted suicide.
One element to having suicide so heavily in mainstream is the topic has now become part of the national conversation. This was the case in March of 2017 when Netflix launched a series based on the best-selling book, 13 Reasons Why. The book and show follows fictional teenager Clay Jensen on his discovery of why his friend, Hannah Baker, committed suicide. She leaves cassette tapes documenting why she ended her life and how 13 people played a role in her decision.
This show has caused major controversy by mental health experts, viewers and school districts. One of the concerns from professionals is the risk of suicide contagion, which is an increase in suicide and suicidal ideation based on exposure through one’s personal life or through media coverage.
Some believe people who battle depression and suicidal ideology should be discouraged from watching shows like 13 Reasons because it can stir up strong emotions. Others encourage people to watch for the knowledge while warning depression and suicidal ideation sufferers to be wary that the contents can be triggering.
Unlike in the show, “suicides happen impulsively in moments of crisis with a breakdown in the ability to deal with life stresses,” the World Health Organization said in a fact sheet about suicide. The show also caught some heat for not initially putting a warning at the beginning of every episode. However in Season 2, there is a warning at the beginning of the series with the actors in the show explaining that the show is fictitious and if a viewer feels a certain way or had something similar happen, to seek help.
Also in response to the backlash, the show has created a website, 13reasonswhy.info, that provides various national resources for people who are struggling with anything that is brought up in the show. There are links to suicide prevention and sexual abuse hotlines among many others.
Some school districts sent out warning letters to parents describing the shows content and some even giving warning signs to suicidal tendencies. Other schools banned any conversations about the show.
The loss of celebrities such as Anthony Bourdain, Avicii, Chester Bennington, Kate Spade and Robin Williams, have brought massive media attention to the causes and effects of suicide.
Alarming evidence of “suicide contagion” is also seen after celebrity suicides. A study conducted by Plos One, an open-forum scientific journal in the US, showed that there were 9.85 percent more suicides in the months following Robin Williams’ death than expected.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says that when reporting on a celebrity suicide, media outlets should use few intimate details as possible. For example, if there were a note found, they would advise to not disclose what the note said. They suggest about headlines, “inform the audience without sensationalizing the suicide and minimize prominence.”
September is National Suicide Prevention Month which hosts National Suicide Prevention Week, Sep. 9 through Sep 15, and World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD), September 10, which are both hosted by the IASP.
Encouraging people to help prevent suicide on the daily and on WSPD, the IASP said, “you can raise awareness about the issue, educate yourself and others about the causes of suicide and warning signs for suicide, show compassion and care for those who are in distress in your community, question the stigma associated with suicide, suicidal behaviour and mental health problems and share your own experiences.”
The city of San Francisco is working against the problem of suicide by installing suicide prevention nets on both sides of the bridge. The nets will be 20 feet under the sidewalk and extend 20 feet out from the bridge.
In 2016, 39 people jumped off the bridge and died, however bridge patrol workers prevented 200 suicides.
The construction will be completed by 2021.
College students are one of the most at-risk demographics for suicide. In fact, according to the National Institute for Mental Health, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 18 to 34.
If you have considered suicide seriously, know someone who has, or generally need help with your mental health, there are plenty of resources available on and off campus.
At the Health Center, you can get eight sessions of mental health counseling for free. They also group therapy sessions such as: 13 Reasons Why Not, Chill & Chat and Rant & Rave.
The 13 Reasons Why Not workshop, will be hosted on Sept. 12, Oct. 10, Nov. 14 and Dec. 12. Each workshop is centered around a different topic.
Chill & Chat is every Wednesday from 2-3:30 p.m. in room 1602. This group is run by students, meaning students drive the discussion and decide where the conversation goes.
Rant & Rave meets twice a week in room 1602, on Tuesdays from 2-3:15 p.m. and Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. This group is more focused on depression, anxiety, relationship problems, family difficulties and stress. Each session is hosted by an on-campus therapist.
The website, psychologytoday.com, can help find a therapist covered by your insurance company.
If you or someone you know is struggling, do not hesitate to seek help, whether it be on or off campus. Remember that you are not alone in your struggles.