End suicide's misguided stigmas

    Suicide touches us all at some point in our lives.

    It was while I was rock climbing in Great Falls National Park in Virginia this summer that I stumbled upon a suicide note.

    The note was written on a slippery boulder no more than 15 feet from the drop-off into the Great Falls. The words of the suicide note were written in a flowing river of metallic dark red. Not written in a marker, possibly in paint, but possibly in blood.

    The note reads like a poem, but there is no doubt that the author of this declaration was seriously contemplating suicide and begging one last time for help before stepping off that ledge.

    The note was signed with only the initial “”J.”” No other contact information was provided, just that mocking J. That is what upset me the most after reading the distressing letter: I couldn’t answer J’s cry for help because I didn’t know who he or she was.

    Did you go through with it, J? Did you take that fatal step over the falls? I pray you didn’t.

    Jesse Reynolds, a Great Falls park ranger, said that there have been no suicides this year, but that there is an average of one suicide per year. Reynolds said he was unaware of any such suicide note near the location I described.

    There is hope that J changed his or her mind and didn’t go through with it, because there hasn’t been a suicide this year and the letter was probably written recently.

    Statistically speaking, if J is a male, he is most likely dead.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control, males threaten suicide less but go through with it four times more frequently than females. In 1999, males accounted for 72 percent of all suicides.

    But if J is a female, there is a very high probability that she is still alive. Women are statistically less likely to actually go through with suicide than males, but more likely to attempt it.

    According to the statistics from the American Association of Suicidology (AAS), a person takes his or her own life every 18 minutes.

    In other words, since I began writing this column 54 minutes ago, three people have committed suicide.

    A morbid and sobering thought, but true nonetheless. And the world needs more of that: more discussion of the unpleasant and examination of the harsh reality of suicide.

    We must get beyond the socially-constructed stigma of shame that is so often associated with suicide.

    Suicide is more common than homicide. According to the AAS, suicide outranks homicide by a ratio of five to three. The AAS also estimates that over five million people have attempted suicide, and almost everyone has had thoughts of suicide at some time in their lives.

    Face the facts: It is impossible to assign a stigma to suicide without bringing the stigma of hypocrisy to us all.

    But the question of what drives someone to suicide has haunted me since I stumbled over J’s suicide letter.

    The Web site of the National Institute of Mental Health offers a wide range of reasons that serve as triggers for those considering suicide, including hopelessness, pain and the inability to cope with a recent stressful experience and to see alternative solutions to their problems.

    Dr. Robert Mashman, the clinical director of psychological and counseling services at UCSD, said that students contemplate suicide for a variety of reasons.

    “”Some might suffer from chronic depression,”” Mashman said. “”Or it could be an event, such as the loss of a boyfriend or girlfriend or academic failure.””

    There are some warning signs to watch for in a troubled friend or acquaintance.

    The Samaritans, a crisis intervention Web site, lists some ambiguous verbal behavior that can point to possible suicidal thoughts and actions: “”I want to go to sleep and never wake up;”” “”I’m going away on a really long trip;”” “”You won’t have to worry about me anymore;”” “”I’m so depressed, I can’t go on;”” and “”Voices are telling me to do bad things.””

    So what do you do if someone you know shows some of these signs or demonstrates other suicidal behavior?

    Listen. Be there. Don’t judge. Be encouraging. Then offer to go with them to psychological and counseling services, located in Galbraith Hall, or have them call (858) 534-3755 to set up an appointment. Or have them call the anonymous 24-hour San Diego crisis line at (800) 479-3339.

    No matter how scary it may seem to vocalize the word “”suicide,”” it is imperative to break the shackles of silence and to get help.

    Suicide affects more than one person. Without a doubt, the life of that one person matters immensely to his or her family, friends and acquaintances, and even to strangers who might happen to stumble on the tragic history of someone they never even knew.

    This is for you, J. Thank you for opening my eyes to the world of pain and darkness that those battling with thoughts of suicide constantly endure.

    I desperately hope you found that foothold of comfort in the rocks before jumping from that ledge. If not, then may you rest in peace.

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