Is anyone listening? When can we talk about suicide?

Bill Hamm
Staff Writer

When do you think we might be able to talk about suicide? Not until at least next year. May we talk about suicide this year? I just don’t know if it’s in the budget. Damn it, it is time to talk about suicide now.

Right here on Minnesota State University, Mankato we have lost a veteran to suicide for the last five years in a row. Sadly, one very recently, and lest we forget, another in our library years ago. Veteran suicide numbers are easier numbers to get at because people are paying attention. These numbers seem unacceptably high for an institution teaching professional skills to address this issue.

Why is it so hard to spark interest in a professional discussion about suicide, especially the cause of suicide, at a university of all places? What are we afraid of, that we might learn some truth we would be compelled to act upon? The fact is all of us rich, poor, male, female, old, and young have had such thoughts, yet most of us would deny it publicly if asked, for fear of being labeled “crazy.”

What else can we talk about? How about how the official number one cause of suicide is, according to Psychology Today, depression. Another, Mental Health Daily, lists mental illness, and a third, MedicineNet, lists mood disorders. To be fair here, all three were on a list of six to eight causes, just in different positions. It’s almost like it might be something that’s an element of all these causes and maybe even more.

From the religious side, we hear terms like hopelessness, despair, loss of sense or value, loss of honor, feelings of uselessness, and being a burden to our loved ones. Defining and preventing suicide is every bit as elusive to this profession as well. They’re very busy comforting the living, soothing the lasting pain, maintaining order and normalcy, and helping us “move on.”

What about socio-economic factors such as race and poverty? How big of a role do they really play? PBS recently did a documentary about new, and conclusive, evidence linking a four-fold increase rates of death during childbirth, and a three-fold increase in child mortality among women of color, due to stress related to racism and poverty. Is it far-fetched to believe suicide rates may also traced to racism as well?

An August 2016 study by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs looks at figures from 2001 to 2014 and they are depressingly real. Suicide is on the rise, more so among military personnel than civilians, and more so among military women than men. Of great concern is that military women are four times more likely than civilian women to commit suicide. Veterans account for 18 percent of suicides but are only 8.5 percent of society, according to the VA study. Male veterans over 50, and especially over 70, are the highest suicide group among men.

While these suicide rates are telling, civilian suicide rates have been on a steady increase since at least 1999, with a marked larger increase per year since 2006, according to the VA study.

We have a problem people. The real question is, how much worse does it have to get before we get over our fear of this issue? Are you ready to join the many of us who want to see at least an attempt at a solution, instead of fear of the truth? Let’s talk, get ahold of me, talk to folks in the VA Center on campus, talk to administration, talk to the Psychology Department, but let’s make MNSU the place in Minnesota that is brave enough to tackle this issue.

Gabe Hewitt

Gabe is a junior mass media student at MSU. He's usually up for anything. You can find him on Twitter (@gabehewitt) or you can email him at gabriel.hewitt@mnsu.edu.

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