Flip the Script on Suicide Prevention Week

National Suicide Prevention Week starts next week (September 8-14) and I am trying to gear up for it. I can’t remember which I am supposed to watch for, the risk factors or the warning signs. I guess somebody will tell me again.

Not to be snarky – I do appreciate this annual effort to get people to pay attention. You’d think so, given my personal stake in preventing suicide, as in, my own. But I have to confess, these campaigns leave me feeling a bit disconnected from myself. How ironic is that?

I figured it out. The problem is that I pay any attention at all to suicide prevention campaigns. But they are not addressed to me. They are addressed to professionals, friends, and loved ones. They are about me and others who are at risk.

But here’s the thing. Professionals, friends, and loved ones are bit players in the suicide prevention business. The ones who do the heavy lifting are the ones in danger ourselves. So we read the literature, always looking for another trick to try, only to discover that we are eavesdropping on somebody else’s conversation.

Honestly, we don’t need to know the warning signs. Honestly, when we are in late stages of planning, we read those lists to make sure we don’t slip up and give the game away.

The Heavy Lifters for Suicide Prevention

The thing is, we are the ones who do the bulk of suicide prevention.

In 2017, 47,173 people in the US died by suicide, and there were an estimated 1,400,000 near misses. Those numbers are huge and keep increasing. But do you realize that they are the tip of an iceberg? There isn’t even an attempt to calculate how many people consider suicide, from passive thought to active planning, those who live with chronic suicidal ideation, those who think of it reflexively as a response to stress or a triggering exposure to a method, those who teeter at the edge of an abyss and abort just short of action.

David Conroy, author of Out of the Nightmare: Recovery from Depression and Suicidal Pain and a psychologist who has been to the edge himself estimated that there are alive today on the planet 50,000,000 people who will struggle with suicidal pain sometime in our lives. 45,000,000 will survive. Those 45,000,000 are the ones I am talking about, who do the heavy lifting of suicide prevention, preventing our own. The other 5,000,000 – a good number of them tried, and simply couldn’t pull it off.

So I want to turn the conversation to us 45,000,000.

I think we need a party.

That’s what I want to do with National Suicide Prevention Week. I want to celebrate it. I want to celebrate all of us who manage to be alive.

I once threw such a party in the lobby of the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics. Unauthorized, I called it a guerilla party, complete with cake.

When your loved one got out of the psych ward, did it occur to you to bake a cake?

But I suck at cake decoration, as those who attended that party can attest. This year I have something else in mind. Twitter.


Every day during National Suicide Prevention Week, I am going to post a photo from the life I have gotten to lead since I pulled myself back from the abyss. I got married #AfterIDidntKillMyself. I went hiking in the Wicklow Mountains of Ireland #AfterIDidntKillMyself. I saw Michelangelo’s David #AfterIDidntKillMyself. I found a publisher for my book #AfterIDidntKillMyself. In fact, I have enough tweets for the whole month. I think I will tweet every day for a month.

Maybe you are or you have somebody who could contribute to that list with your own stories or photos of what happened #AfterIDidntKillMyself. Please join the party with your own tweets.

Arguments Don’t Work

Now this is not intended as some argument against suicide. [See, if you die, you will miss out on something wonderful.] Arguments are not helpful. If you ever call a suicide prevention line, you will not find anybody trying to argue you out of it. Edwin Schneidman, father of suicide prevention, cautions that persuasion does not prevent suicide. Rather, The most effective way to reduce elevated lethality is by doing so indirectly… Reduce the person's anguish, tension, and pain and his level of lethality will concomitantly come down, for it is the elevated perturbation that fuels the elevated lethality.

In other words, people don't commit suicide because they can't figure out it is a bad idea. They do it because they are in pain. Arguments distance the arguer from the one who is in pain. Arguments may reduce the arguer’s pain, because the arguer is right. But they miss the point of prevention. They miss it by a mile. Reduce the pain and you reduce the risk. Really, it’s as simple as that.

But in any case, 45,000,000 of us triumph over our pain. And that is what I am talking about, celebrating our triumph.


So join me for my National Suicide Prevention Victory Party #AfterIDidntKillMyself.

Suicide Prevention logo by Inspire Malibu
photo of weightlifter from Bundesarchiv German Federation Archive
flair from Facebook.com

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