Raise your glass of Metamucil; it’s time for a toast.
Geezers and prospective geezers alike rejoice. Recent statistics confirm that the long term trend of Americans living longer and generally in better health continues. Information released by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) indicates that eight of the top ten leading causes of death decreased significantly between 2011 and 2012. The impact of this is longer life expectancy and better quality of life across the board.
Less dying, more living, and better health– sounds good to me.
Despite the overall numbers, it’s not all good news. While eight of the leading causes of death are down and one is flat, the final is up sharply. Perhaps more troubling, this cause of death is most likely to affect 25-64 year olds, cutting people down in their prime. What is the increasingly lethal killer that no one is talking about?
How is it that in 2014 with all the advances of medicine we are taking our own lives at such alarming rates? The research points to several reasons –all with a common thread.
Risk Factors for Suicide:
- History of mental disorders, particularly clinical depression
- Barriers to accessing mental health treatment
- Unwillingness to seek help because of the stigma attached to mental health and substance abuse disorders or to suicidal thoughts
We are losing our mothers, daughters, sons and brothers. Not because we can’t treat them, but because of the stigma of obtaining the help they need. In a word, shame.
And these numbers are horrifically underreported. Countless more of our mentally ill are self-medicating with alcohol or drugs and dying from addiction-related causes. Make no mistake, mental health fueled suicide is an epidemic.
And we’re doing next to nothing to address this for one simple reason. We are too busy with causes that stress style over substance. A prime example is the NFL. Each October NFL teams deck themselves out in pink to raise awareness about breast cancer.
Do you know anyone who isn’t aware of breast cancer? The NFL knows this. They aren’t stupid, but they are interested in marketing themselves to women and checking the altruism box. So they make a big show of it and feign interest. When in fact it was recently revealed that they only donate $12 of every $100 they make selling the pink merchandise.
Style 1, Substance 0.
Whereas an issue that could use some awareness is ignored. You hear nothing but crickets from the NFL or anywhere else, because there is no cachet to mental health. No untapped market to conquer, no jerseys to sell. Yet we all know about restless leg syndrome and where to go to get boner pills.
The schools are even worse. Stop by your kid’s class and you won’t see meaningful mental health screening nor will you hear about a link between mental health and suicide. What you will hear all about is bullying. Not because of a causation link, but because a special interest group has glommed onto an issue and is pushing an agenda. Is there a link between bullying and suicide, there can be, but ham-fisted advocates oversimplify what is really a mental health issue.
Am I pro-bullying or pro-breast cancer? Of course not, I am just anti-bullshit.
It is highly unlikely that a mentally sound kid is going to commit suicide based on bullying without an underlying issue. That issue is mental health. But there is no special interest group for mental health, no celebrity spokesman, just reality and shame.
We need to get real about the issues and attack them in a meaningful way. What exactly does that look like? Two things we can all do.
First and foremost, know the symptoms. Look for them in yourself and those around you.
- Feeling sad or down
- Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt
- Extreme mood changes of highs and lows
- Withdrawal from friends and activities
- Significant tiredness, low energy or problems sleeping
- Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations
- Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Major changes in eating habits or sex drive
- Excessive anger, hostility or violence
- Suicidal thoughts
Second is to take action. If you are struggling, get some help. While the symptoms can be paralyzing, self-medicating with alcohol or drugs or burying yourself in denial won’t help. A screening by your primary care physician can. If you think others may be struggling, ask them. Be a friend. They may push you away but their very life may rely on your diligence.
The bottom line is that we’ve got to start talking about this. You can help.