Reaching out can save lives

Patrick Kempfer, Opinion Editor

The world is a beautiful place, full of love, with many wondrous and exciting adventures awaiting our discovery, but some of us will never learn this fact. There is an alarming number of people who suffer from grave mental and emotional disorders that lead them deeper into despair, and closer to taking drastic measures to ease their pain.

Sept. 10 was the 13th annual World Suicide Prevention Day, first established by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP). Ella Arensman, the director of research or the National Suicide Research Foundation reminds all of us that “it is … so very important to proactively encourage, support, and to guide people to ensure that they get the help that they need.”

Sadly, because of continuing stigmas surrounding mental health issues, seeking help is not widely regarded by many who need it, and, therefore, leaves the sufferer to his or her own slow demise.

We are still in the wake of the suicide of celebrated actor and comedian, Robin Williams. Though Williams was very open about his substance use and recovery, having put together 20 years of recovery at one point and more than 10 more at another, many are still looking for answers to the riddle of “Why?” Why would such a talented and funny, and very charismatic individual choose to take his own life? There are many more whose lives get short, whose suicides’ are explained away, as if the tragedy were pre-stamped with both rhyme and reason.

The truth is nobody really knows, and may never really know why or what could bring someone to such a drastic and very permanent decision and action.

According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States, claiming more than 33,000 lives a year. While depression and mood disorders are the top risk factor for suicide, alcohol and drug abuse rank a close second, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Addiction kills, but not always how we think. We often hear people say that someone has lost their battle with addiction, and then hear about an overdose, or car crash, but rarely is this spoken when we hear about suicide. Somehow, that is treated as a separate issue.

Dr. Carolyn Ross, in an article in the Feb. 20, 2014, issue of Psychology Today, offered a few explanations as to why so many people struggling with addictions turn to suicide.

“Under the influence of drugs or alcohol, people may lose inhibitions and take risks they ordinarily would not,” Ross wrote. “Additionally, many people abuse drugs or alcohol in an attempt to relieve symptoms of depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions. The rate of major depression is two to four times higher among addicts than the general population.

“Abusing drugs, especially depressants such as alcohol or sedatives, can also trigger symptoms of depression, increasing the risk of suicide,” she wrote. “ As the consequences of addiction pile up, from legal problems and damaged relationships to financial ruin and job loss, individuals may lose all hope that things can get better.”

The very nature of addiction is to remove the self from the universal collective; it seeks to destroy by way of isolation, alienation, and separation. The ultimate goal of any addiction is to kill its host, and it is in this way that addiction best represents a disease.

Perhaps the best way to help someone you suspect may be having suicidal thoughts, whether the result of addiction or other risk factors, is by offering an empathetic, listening ear and letting that person know you care. Tips on how to talk with someone who may be suicidal can be found at

For more information on how to help yourself or someone you suspect of being suicidal, go to the International Association for Suicide Prevention website, at, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or your local Suicide Prevention Hotline. In Madison, the number is 608-280-2600.