Is Suicide 100% Preventable?
As a clinician, mom, daughter, and friend, I want to say yes! Yes! Emphatically, yes, because no one wants to lose a loved one to suicide- EVER. If I can prevent suicide 100%, I don’t have to worry about experiencing that pain. It has been said by some psychologists and the media that suicide is 100% preventable. Recently, the popular 13 Reasons Why Netflix series, based on the book, blames thirteen individuals for the main character’s final act of suicide. The assumption is, if people were paying attention and kind, suicide would disappear. While this idea may be popular, is it accurate? Some suicide victims show no signs. Is it as hopeful at it sounds? Not at all and here is why: if we say suicide is 100% preventable, where does that leave all the parents who lost a child or children who lost a parent to suicide? What does that do to family members, friends, and clinicians of someone who has been a victim of suicide? They have worked so hard to keep the person safe. How can we put this burden on people who are already so heavy hearted with complicated grief and feelings of failure?
Losing Someone to Suicide
To lose a loved one to suicide leaves the survivor with questions, regret, guilt, and wrestling with grief for an indeterminate amount of time. Recently, a tween, who lost his best friend to suicide asked me, tensely, if suicide was always preventable. I could read in his face the fear of blame waiting to hear my response. Before I could respond, he made sure I knew his friend didn’t show any of the signs. Like I did with this young man, I must emphasize suicide is not the survivor’s fault. Unless you physically forced the person to end their own life, this was not your fault. Most people did the best they could with the information they were given. And I’m convinced, if they had had more information, they would have tried to help.
There are some families that struggle chronically with suicidality. It can become emotionally exhausting to the point of numbing. For these families, our hearts go out to you. Unless you have lived in a home where suicide threats are common, suicide notes or pictures are left in times of conflict, calls to crisis are habitual, and visits to the ER are regular, you don’t know what it’s like to live with someone you love who wants to die. To live in a home where all the pills are locked up, the sharps are out of the way, and there is a vigilance for anything resembling a rope is an intense level many families deal with day in and day out. Safety is their act of love. They work so hard to keep their loved ones safe. I once heard a clinician say to their suicidal client, “I cannot keep you from killing yourself but I will do everything in my power to make it really hard.” If someone really wants to die, it may be impossible to stop them.
Is Suicide 100% Preventable?
While we would like to believe suicide is 100% preventable, the truth is, it is not. To say that it is, dishonors all those who loved them and did everything they could to keep them safe. I want survivors of the suicide victim to have relief from any sense of guilt. When the thoughts “What did I miss?” ”What could I have done to stop him/her? “What could I have done differently?” I want the person to know that they did the best they could with the information they had. I want them to understand they cannot control another human being. The survivors of suicide will never be the same again. Let us not add to their pain by implying they could have prevented it and placing blame. Let us love on them by being with them in their grief, listening, supporting, and validating their experience. Let us educate ourselves to know how to help those in pain. If suicide is not 100% preventable, is it at all preventable? This I can answer yes! Emphatically, yes! The dichotomy of the situation is while we can never have complete over another human being, we can absolutely use our influence to prevent suicide when we see the signs. There are no easy answers. I wish there were. Next time I will share ways people may prevent suicide.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4 (NIV)