Suicide is an epidemic that preceded the pandemic, and will endure as we get vaccinated, shed our masks, and work towards settling into a new normal — which, admittedly will take some adjusting, as we watched over 500,000 fellow Americans succumb to the virus. Chances are you knew someone whose life was adversely affected. Three of my colleagues and friends lost one of their parents.
During the 20-year period from 1999 to 2018, the total suicide rate in the United States increased 35%. In 2018, suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States. In Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Markle disclosed that she, too, had experienced suicidal thoughts. Her revelation will go a long way towards fighting the stigma that exists around suicide. Just as the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain in 2018 communicated to the world that no one is immune to depression, regardless of how rich or famous they are, Markle’s disclosure reinforces that message.
We don’t know what transpired behind the closed doors in the homes of Spade or Bourdain, but Markle reached out and asked for help. Her actions not only likely saved her life, but modeled for millions that when one is in the throes of depression and/or feeling suicidal, it is okay to talk about it.
In the course of my treatment for anorexia, major depressive disorder, and borderline personality disorder (BPD), which spanned over three decades, I attempted suicide four times and was chronically suicidal for much of the time. Researchers estimate that approximately 3 to 10 percent of people with BPD die by suicide. There were times I was honest about how I was feeling, but often I was not. Sometimes I was able to get through the hours without acting on my thoughts, but occasionally the self-deprecating and self-destructive thoughts crowded my brain and I attempted to take my life.
I kept my first suicide attempt at age 25 a secret from everyone, even the therapist I was seeing at the time. My mid-twenties were a tumultuous time. I’d grown up with a verbally and emotionally abusive alcoholic father and was out in the world without any coping mechanisms. I’d survived in college by smoking pot and playing sports, creating a comfortable pod for the four years I was there,
I stumbled into advertising in New York City because that was the first interview at which I barely passed the typing test. My degree in communications didn’t qualify me to interview for anything else but a “marketing assistant,” which inevitably turned out to be for a secretary. When I accepted the position, I went home and cried because I felt as if I had failed my parents. What did I go to college for?
The infamous New York City advertising industry had its own softball league, known as the New York Co-Ed Advertising Softball League. I joined my company’s team on my second day there and soon became a standout. I was soon recruited by a women’s corporate team and a men’s fast-pitch team (I was a pitcher in college) that played in Central Park on Sundays.
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I’d been confused about my sexuality in college and playing on all these differently gender-mixed teams didn’t help. After the games, the entire league headed over to a tiny bar on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where on the summer’s hot, humid nights, we spilled out onto the sidewalk, drinks in hand. I wasn’t much of a drinker; I’d never developed a taste for beer. I liked Seabreezes in the summer so I sipped those – until the first baseman on the women’s team introduced me to cocaine. The coke imbued me with a personality that was and wasn’t me, On coke, I was outgoing, talkative, even a little flirtatious — a far cry from the shy girl who stood, alone, sipping her Seabreeze.
I quickly developed a taste for cocaine and became addicted. Buying cocaine to snort at home, I found myself driving to Queens at 2 AM over the Triboro Bridge, still high from partying at the bar. The softball season ended, but my taste for cocaine only intensified as that social outlet was cut out of my life. Soon after the season ended, I attempted suicide. The failed attempt intensified my feelings as a freak, someone who would never fit in.
Within the epidemic of suicide, there exists a greater crisis among young people. In 2018, suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 24, behind unintentional injury. And they are thinking about it. Among adults across all age groups, the prevalence of serious suicidal thoughts was highest among young adults aged 18-25.
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The myth persists that if you ask a person about suicide, you will put the idea into their head. That is not true. If suicide is on their mind, they may be relieved to have it out in the open and start addressing it.
Another myth is that people who survive a suicide attempt are unlikely to try again. Within the first three months to a year following a suicide attempt, people remain at the highest risk for making a second attempt. A comprehensive review that looked at successful suicides among those who had made a previous attempt found that one person in 25 completed a suicide within five years.
On March 25, in an Opinion piece in the New York Times titled I Don’t Want Another Family to Lose a Child the Way We Did, psychologist Pamela Morris opened up about losing her daughter to suicide. She implores everyone who has contact with adolescents to bring the discussion about this taboo subject out into the open.
This is the only way to reverse the trend of the last 18 years.
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If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, or text TALK to 741741 to text with a trained crisis counselor for free, 24/7.