Looking Beyond the Numbers and Learning to Talk About Suicide

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, starting a week of awareness about suicide prevention (Suicide Prevention Week 9/9-15). Throughout this week you may shake your head in disbelief at the statistics, such as the nearly 45,000 deaths by suicide in the US alone in 2016 (2016 is the most recent year we have this statistic). To put this reality in perspective, that’s about half of the capacity of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. These are real people that someone knew, loved and lost. Of these deaths, just over three-fourths of them were men and just under one-quarter of them were women. It’s worth mentioning that the statistics only provide information pertaining to individuals who self-identify within the gender binary, which obscures the picture of how suicide affects those who do not self-identify within the binary.

These statistics may make us catch our breath and reflect on their impact, but it is also important to remember that behind the numbers there are names, and each name has their own story. Some stories are well known, like those of Robin Williams, Kurt Cobain, and most recently Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Robin Williams could make us laugh until we cried, Kurt Cobain seemed to put his very soul into music, Kate Spade created beauty, and Anthony Bourdain showed us the world through its cuisine.

However, there are many names and stories that are known only by a few. There’s the high school student who played on her school’s basketball team, the woman who followed her dream of becoming a lawyer after finally passing the bar, or the 12-year-old who had been bullied one too many times. The remembering and telling of these stories is one of the characteristics that differentiates us as human beings. Sometimes numbers can serve to take us away from the human component of it all. And being human is what makes us ask the questions that are vitally important to ask when it comes to suicide.

A colleague and mentor of mine taught me that the biggest thing we can do to prevent suicide is something because, unfortunately, what we often do is nothing. When someone says something like, “I want to check out” or “I can’t do this anymore,” often those comments are met with minimization. Some common responses are: ““Life is hard, but it will get better. Hang in there.” or something counselors call ‘me too-ing’: “I know what you mean, I have felt like I wanted to check out. My life is crazy as well. Let me tell you what happened last week.” Sometimes these statements are even met with silence. Perhaps it is because we don’t notice, we feel uncomfortable, or simply don’t know what to say. We can all help prevent suicide by learning to ask the hard questions (“Are you thinking of killing yourself?”) and taking the time to have difficult, but potentially life-saving conversations. It really could be the difference for someone you know.

More Resources

Suicide Prevention Resources

The CWC hosts a resource page with local, regional, and national suicide prevention resources, including tips for talking with someone who is suicidal. Visit counseling.ufl.edu/suicide to learn more.

Suicide Prevention Training

If you are interested in a free group training in suicide prevention (QPR training) for UF students, faculty, and staff please visit counseling.ufl.edu/suicide-education to learn more

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