Suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth aged 10 to 24 and is just the tip of the iceberg of mental and physical health outcomes. National Suicide Prevention Week continues through Sept. 15. This week also marks the second anniversary of our son Cameron’s death by suicide on Sept. 8, 2013.
Our journey over the past two years has introduced us to a club we would never have wanted to join; yet joined by Cameron’s suicide. The journey of unfathomable pain that we endure as parents of a preventable loss should not be tolerated by the nurturing communities we live in. Our family has joined hands with other “survivors of suicide” to prevent suicide and treat depression especially for our youth in Idaho and the Northwest region.
The instantaneous social world we live in today provides an environment that can alienate and compound mental and physical distress, especially for our youth. The statistics are shocking and unacceptable. According to the most recent Idaho Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 1 in 7 high school students seriously considered suicide in 2013; 1 in 14 reported making at least one attempt (Governor’s Council on Suicide Prevention report 2014). Considering a high school population of any size, these numbers should concern everyone.
Much like Ryan White and Rock Hudson broke the stigmas around AIDS, the veil shrouding the stigmas around depression is beginning to lift. Look no further than Robin Williams or Dr. Peter Wollheim, whose lives gave so much and yet ended abruptly and so needlessly. Their deaths add to the toll — calling on each of us to become educated on the risk factors and warning signs of depression to save lives.
Our son, Cameron, was a very gifted individual who declared “I can make it to Saturday Night Live” the night before we lost him. Cam had the gift, he had the talent, but he did not have the self-love to get him there. Even as Cam loved everyone, he battled deeper than we or his medical providers knew.
Depression is the single most treatable and preventable disease. The human brain is the most complex and least understood organ in the human body. If you are diagnosed with cancer, you are likely to be referred to a cancer specialist. If you are diagnosed with a mental illness, like the disease of depression, you may be sent to an emergency room and possibly a psychiatric hospital for treatment. The fact that our health care systems don’t trumpet mental health centers, as they do cancer or heart centers, suggests the stigma of mental illness and suicide within the medical profession. Partly this is driven by reimbursement rates. More fundamentally we must work to make mental health and suicide prevention a priority for our community.
Similar to broad-based training in CPR, we need “gatekeeper” trainings that include identifying those at risk and what actions to take. Seeking ways to create peer and social supports in our communities and our schools is paramount to keeping our youth connected and safe. “Where there is a will, there is a way” is a wisdom that applies to address the growing toll on our community of suicide deaths and untreated mental disorders. As a community, we need to fund the training and resources necessary to save lives of all ages, including our veterans, seniors and Native American populations.
Please take time to educate and participate in upcoming events around suicide prevention in your communities. As a community, we need to emerge out of the darkness of suicide stigma.
W. Stewart Wilder is president and Debbie Wilder, RN, is co-founder and board member of LiveWilder Foundation. Advancing zero suicide for youths and named after the #LiveWilder in Cameron’s memory by his classmates. See www.livewilder.org or call 1-800-273-TALK