More people are committing suicide than ever before, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports, but suicide isn’t uniquely an American issue. The World Health Organization estimates that every 40 seconds, someone in the world ends his or her life.
Experts say the key to preventing suicide is to get help early and to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide.
Dorothy Paugh was 9 years old when her father took his life.
“I count that day as the last day of my childhood,” she said, “because from that moment on, I had no sense of security.”
Paugh’s father is buried at Arlington Cemetery, a place reserved for war heroes.
“It’s important to me that people not label those who die by suicide as cowards,” she said, “because my father was brave. He fought in World War II and … I think he just got overwhelmed.”
Nearly 50 years later, Dorothy Paugh’s life was shaken again by yet another suicide.
“I lost my son in 2012,” she said.
“This is my favorite picture of Peter because he has a hint of a smile. It’s so understated, but he has piercing blue eyes. He’s paying attention. He’s looking at the world with love, I think.”
Each year, some 800,000 people worldwide die as a result of suicide — and that number does not include the countless others who attempt it. The World Health Organization says this translates to one self-inflicted death every 40 seconds. But the impact on families, societies and communities is far greater.
“The ripple effect is enormous,” Paugh said. My son’s “brothers, his girlfriend, myself, his father. It’s a shock that takes years to recover … to find footing again.”
Yet, experts say suicide can be prevented if governments create policies to prevent alcohol and drug abuse, make guns safer, reduce the stigma of suicide, and provide support for those suffering from depression and diseases that cause depression.
Paul Gionfrieddo, who heads Mental Health America, became an advocate for early treatment when his son developed a mental illness.
“Suicide is the ultimate stage four event for a lot of people who have serious mental illnesses and, frankly, it’s the ultimate stage four, late-stage event for a lot of people with other kinds of chronic diseases as well, too, who might not have had a mental illness,” Gionfrieddo said.
Because of her experience, Paugh became an advocate for suicide prevention.
“If we think someone may be troubled, ask them outright if they are having thoughts of suicide,” Paugh said. “It’s not a comfortable conversation, but it’s a lot more comfortable than a funeral. That’s my hope and my purpose in speaking about suicide — so people know it is preventable.”
Mental health experts say mental health screening would help people get into treatment before their depression becomes severe. Other recommendations include reducing the social stigma associated with mental illness and making treatment more widely available.