World Suicide Prevention Day was September 10, 2013, and National Suicide Prevention Week was September 8-14, 2013. Nothing special happened in America to mark these occasions. There was no speech by U.S. President Obama, who instead declared the month of September to be National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. There was also no meaningful action on the part of the White House, unless Michelle Obama’s token acknowledgement of U.S. Veteran suicides can be counted, but this isn’t the first administration to ignore America’s suicide problem.
Suicide remains the dirty little secret of America, with no administration in the White House ever properly addressing the issue. This is unfortunate, as the most effective suicide prevention is often simply reaching out to those who need help. Sadly, the leaders of America are blind to a crisis that claimed the lives of almost 40,000 Americans in 2010.
In other words, more Americans committed suicide in 2010 than died in motor vehicle accidents. The actual number of suicides was 38,364, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while motor vehicle deaths accounted for only 33,687 lives. In contrast, the FBI reported 13,164 murders in 2010, making the average American three times more likely to kill him- or herself than to be murdered. In fact, the problem is so bad that every 15 minutes someone in America commits suicide, a number that is equal to about 1% of all births in the United States.
It doesn’t make the news though, and no one at state or federal levels is addressing the problem. Instead people remain focused on mass shootings, which in 2010 accounted for exactly nine deaths in America. That figure is so small by comparison to the number of suicides and other murders that it doesn’t even register statistically. In fact, a closer look at the overall numbers for both murder and suicide overwhelmingly favors addressing suicide before any other issue currently being debated.
Every 15 minutes in America, someone commits suicide:
- In 2010, 53 people per day killed themselves with a gun, for a total of 19,392 suicides.
- 26 people per day killed themselves by suffocation, for a total of 9,493 suicides.
- 18 people per day killed themselves with poison, for a total of 6,599 suicides.
- 7 people per day killed themselves by other means, for a total of 2,880 suicides.
In contrast, murder occurs only every 45 minutes in America:
- 24 people per day are murdered with a gun, for a total of 8,874 murders.
- 6 people per day are murdered with a knife or blunt instrument, for a total of 2,281 murders.
- 5 people per day are murdered by hand or with other weapons, for a total of 1,641 murders.
- 1 person per day is murdered by all other means, for a total of 368 murders.
As seen in the above numbers, there are three times more suicides than murders in America.
Despite these statistics, the nation remains fixated on mass shootings, which is ironic, because on average more people commit suicide every day then are killed in an entire year of mass shootings. In fact, there are more than four times as many suicides than just the gun-related murders in America.
Unfortunately no one at the state or federal level is calling for reforms or committees to help prevent suicides, and they are unlikely to do so in the near future. Instead they’re on one side or the other of the gun control debate, fishing for votes and support while almost 40,000 people per year quietly kill themselves. Worse, according to Julie Phillips, Rutgers University associate professor of sociology, that number is “vastly under-reported.”
Despite this, a gun debate rages around the nation, with everyone seeming to overlook the fact that all types of murder in America have steadily decreased over the last decade. A much greater degree of focus and attention needs to be paid to the suicide, but until the gun debate takes a back seat, there will be little chance for any meaningful reform or help for these people.
Any change in the near future will be the result of grassroots efforts at a human level. For some people that may mean being more aware of loved ones, understanding their problems, and helping them to cope with difficulties in life. For others it might involve urging counseling or therapy sessions for a loved one, or even participating in them. All it really takes is a few moments of care to make a difference. With so many people turning to suicide, the problem might be closer to home than you think. Try listening, instead of lecturing, and see if someone you love is whispering for help.
This guide from the National Institute of Mental Health can help if you have concerns about someone you love. Don’t wait for the leaders of America to initiate change or offer help. That isn’t happening. If you or someone you know needs help, tomorrow is probably too late. Visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline website, or contact them directly at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The call is anonymous, and for some it can be the light in the dark they need to find their way home.
In loving memory of my cousin, Douglas.
Images Courtesy of flickrcc.net; The Absence of Hope; Like to Drown; Suicidal Girl; Counseling