Just four weeks ago, I penned my 1,000th column in this space.
With a smattering of math, it should come as no surprise that with today’s conversation, I’ve been writing On the House for 20 years.
That’s right…20 years.
And in those two decades, one topic continues to command considerable attention: suicide.
From the Cody Medical Foundation’s yearly Beck Lake Challenge to Rita Overfield’s column here in the Cody Enterprise (and everywhere and everyone in between), community advocates commit daily to keeping the issues of mental health and suicide prevention in the forefront of our conversation.
There were some 30,000 suicides in 1999 across America; today, that number exceeds 45,000. In the last 20 years, suicide rates have increased in all states but one. Wyoming’s suicide rate is twice the national average, and the state is consistently in the top half dozen states for the number of suicides.
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), suicide is a large and growing public health problem.
“Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States,” the CDC reports. “It was responsible for nearly 45,000 deaths in 2016, with approximately one death every 12 minutes. Many more people think about or attempt suicide and survive. In 2016, 9.8 million American adults seriously thought about suicide; 2.8 million made a plan; and 1.3 million attempted suicide.”
The CDC also noted that suicide is the second leading cause of death for people 10 to 34 years of age, the fourth leading cause among people 35 to 54 years of age, and the eighth leading cause among people 55 to 64 years of age. (Read more at cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide.)
I’m sure that each of us is familiar with the statistics on suicide, but it takes on a whole new dynamic when it becomes personal. In these 20 years of column writing, I’ve been personally affected by three suicides – the third happening just last week. In its wake, we – like so many family and friends before us – are agonizing with the age-old question: Why?
I cannot begin to imagine any condition or circumstance that would lead me to take my own life. I weigh all I’ve been able to see and do, and the people I know and love. Likewise, the overall beauty of life in that poetic sort of way seems too precious to exit any sooner than I have to.
Eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) put it this way: “No man ever threw away life while it was worth keeping.”
Therein lies the problem, though. Some fight battles – mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual – that I can’t comprehend. I have no common ground to grasp their intentions or their pain. I, like so many others, am left only wondering why.
“God surely did not create us, and cause us to live, with the sole end of wishing always to die,” wrote English author Charlotte Bronte (1816-1855). “I believe, in my heart, we were intended to prize life and enjoy it, so long as we retain it. Existence never was originally meant to be that useless, blank, pale, slow-trailing thing it often becomes to many, and is becoming to me, among the rest.”
For help, contact 1-800-273-TALK (8255), the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or text WYO to 741741, the Wyoming Crisis Text Line.
Help is always available.