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When iconic individuals like Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain end their own lives, we have to believe there was something so profoundly unhelpable about their situations that they believed suicide was their only option.

As a clinical social worker with an expertise in suicide prevention, I can assure you there is nothing inevitable about suicide. The biggest problem we face is a lack of education and understanding, even in the medical community, of what this tenth leading cause of death in America is really all about. This leaves almost everyone afraid to step in and turn the tide.

Family medicine physicians, who prescribe about 80 percent of psychiatric medications, undergo less than a day of suicide prevention training. Emergency Room doctors are not required to have any. More people die by suicide than homicide. More people die by suicide than in auto accidents. The national suicide rate is 13.9 people per 100,000, and recent studies show that 54 percent of those who die by suicide did not have a diagnosed mental illness.

Society has come to believe that if someone is really suicidal, there is nothing anyone can do about it.

We need to rewrite the story on suicide to one of hope because suicide is not inevitable.

Shame often prevents people from sharing feelings and telling someone: “I’m thinking about ending it all.” When we experience a spate of suicides in close proximity like we did recently, we feel powerless about the possibility of preventing these untimely deaths.

The interpersonal theory of suicide suggests that the likelihood of suicide increases if three things are present in someone’s life: feeling as if they are a burden to others, social isolation or not belonging to a community, and an ability to make it happen.

When a famous person like Anthony Bourdain or Robin Williams dies by suicide, people are perplexed, thinking, they had everything; how could they do this? But rich and famous does not equal happy.

But there is truth to the notion that it’s lonely at the top; achieving fame, fortune and renown can leave a person feeling alone and misunderstood.

We must change our conversation about suicide to one of hopefulness, where we all get involved in turning the tide. Even the language must change – a person does not “commit” suicide like they “commit” a crime or a sin. They die, tragically, and preventably.

Suicide is not inevitable. Even when someone thinks it is the answer, there is time to redirect thoughts. We simply have to care. We mustn’t shy away from getting involved.

Suicide is highly preventable. We must arm health care practitioners, educators, and community members with the tools to spot real risk, and then provide effective treatment to heal it.

Gigi Colombini, psychotherapist

Institute for Hope and Human Flourishing

Birmingham

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