archives, wellness

Are We Listening Yet?


The most vital part of any conversation includes active listening, but are we listening yet?

The truth is, most don’t want to know or acknowledge the fact that depression and suicide are global health matters as headline after headline cruises past those of us on autopilot during the evening news. Are we listening yet?

We have a long way to go in this conversation that we’ve stigmatized and silenced for far too long. How many reasons why do we need to listen?

We care, and we all matter — those are two reasons enough. Everyone deserves to know that they are enough too.

In the past few years, headlines have focused more openly on talking about suicide rather than brushing over the issue. Celebrities and scandals make headlines every day, but deeper conversations now come to light because of such headlines, such as the deaths by suicide of Robin Williams, Kate Spade and Avicii.

Meanwhile, studies reflect the results of social modeling leading to more suicides, or suicide clusters, when such news isn’t carefully discussed. The higher the dose of exposure, the higher the contagion. We need a better conversation.

A recent CDC publication pointed out that at least half of the United States witnessed a 30 percent climb in suicide rates in the last two decades, and the count was at 45,000 in 2016. Various factors and circumstances can contribute to the decision to take one’s life, and prevention requires a comprehensive approach, according to researchers.

Scientists gathered data from suicides across states and found the highest rates in the northern United States, which witnessed a 57.6 percent rise since 1999. Guns were involved in nearly half the total deaths as the method of suicide.

Most people think they see suicide coming or that you’d have to be far too disturbed or selfish to do it, which is a mistake. On the contrary, 54 percent had no known mental illness among those who committed suicide from 2014 to 2016. Substance misuse, relationship problems, health concerns, financial issues and recent crises were just some of the real-life issues that have played roles.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for those between 15 and 29. While committing suicide isn’t a result of being rich or poor, it can be seen as a cultural phenomenon. The truth is that we’re failing each other by not addressing mental health concerns and properly discussing suicide.

Kitchen-table conversations surrounding the birds and the bees feel awkward for all, and discussions about suicide can be worse — the unfortunate common talk boils down to, “Just don’t do it. Talk to your parents or a loved one first.”

It’s the listening part of the equation that needs assistance along with the freedom and safety of sufferers to bring up the topic without feeling like they’re stigmatized, walking on eggshells or about to be locked up for opening up.

  • Don’t make suicide a taboo: Discuss concerns and impact openly. Leave out suicide notes and lethal means to avoid glamorization.
  • Always use appropriate and direct language without criminalizing suicide: Picture someone you know who suffers from anxiety. Therapists advise others to say “Person A with anxiety” versus defining the person by the condition. Similarly, don’t say “Bob committed suicide.” Say, “Bob died by suicide.” Avoid using the words successful and unsuccessful with suicide attempts.
  • Remember that honesty is the best policy: Kate Spade likely had a mood disorder, and many conditions like that can be treatable. It’s still no reason to place blame on someone who died by suicide. Heart attacks aren’t selfish, are they?
  • Know that talking about suicide doesn’t put the notion in someone’s head of going through with it: Don’t be afraid to ask and discuss. When someone says they are going to complete suicide, contact 9-1-1 or go with them for emergency assessment. Remove access to lethal means. There’s a clear difference between talking about what suicide means for sufferers versus saying “I’m going to do it.”

You’re not responsible for whether someone completes or does not complete suicide, but it’s important to take their concerns seriously. The suicide epidemic falls, in part, on the act of not listening, since most of us shy away from suicide as a stigma or taboo. Real-life concerns plague us all, and most of us are taught to shut up and suffer through it, but we don’t have to.

Feeling connected is the best thing for anyone suffering, and depression doesn’t look or feel the same for everyone — and that’s all right. Are you ready to listen?


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Kate Harveston
Kate Harveston is a freelance writer and blogger. Her work focuses on health and culture. When she isn’t writing, she can usually be found curled up in her hammock with a book or exploring the city for trendy coffee shops. You can visit her blog, So Well, So Woman to read more of her work and receive a free subscriber gift!
Kate Harveston