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American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, our current Poverty and Health Encore beneficiary, works to ensure that the roots of suicide are addressed in the media, with grief counseling, in research, and with prevention. The pieces of the puzzle don’t fit if you look at suicide only by statistics, or from a position that doesn’t consider the intimate facets of people’s lives and relationships.
There is no one cause of suicide. David Brooks, in his op-ed in the New York Times, tries to wrap the causes of suicide up in a neat package. He cites that depression treatment has increased, but so have suicide rates. He tries to correlate the differences in suicide rates among nationalities and ethnic groups. He uses the death of Marilyn Monroe as the cause of the uptick in suicides in the month after her death.
However, professionals working within the field of suicide prevention were frustrated and bewildered by his comments. Robert Gerbia, the executive director of American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, responds in a letter to the editor, “What is most disturbing to those of us who work in the field of suicide prevention is that he is perpetuating the myth that suicide is a rational and selfish act carried out by the weak. It’s another example of misunderstanding the reality of mental illness.”
A person’s decision to take their own life is not driven by one reason, but a host of events, experiences, and illnesses. These lives cannot be explained or rationalized in 500 words or 500 pages regarding suicide, since suicide does not have one cause, or a common cause between people. AFSP does provide community awareness and support in their outreach efforts. On Veterans Day, they encouraged members of congress to record messages to veterans regarding resources on suicide prevention, citing high rates of suicides among military veterans.
The work of AFSP cannot be summarized in this one piece of writing. The angles, facets, and depths of the issues of suicide prevention, mental illness treatment, and grief support are different for every person touched by suicide.