The suicides this week of Designer Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain along with the 2016 suicide rates released by the CDC have brought suicide to the forefront of everyone’s minds.
It has been a topic of conversation in two of my support groups, because everyone with CRPS is considered high risk, this disease wasn’t nicknamed the Suicide Disease because it makes you feel warm, bright, and fuzzy with a tickle of pain.
Someone on my personal FB page posted they didn’t know Anthony Bourdain was mentally ill. The shocking thing about the CDC suicide rates for 2016 was they showed diagnosed or suspected mental illness didn’t play much of a role in suicides for 2016, a trend that has been going up.
Mental illness is still stigmatized in the US. It’s gotten better, but not a whole lot better. People still see it as a sign of mental weakness. The reality is that mental illness isn’t a sign of mental weakness or weakness at all, it’s just a chemically defective brain… In most cases, it’s genetic, making it no different than having clubbed thumbs.
People with mental illnesses don’t speak up about it. It isn’t discussed politely with strangers. If you do talk about it with a stranger, they think you are oversharing because mental illness is still considered a private, dirty secret.
However, as suicide rates have increased since the 1990s, the CDC finding that mental illness wasn’t a factor in about half of all suicides for 2016 is significant, because it proves that suicide isn’t just for the mentally ill. Because since the 1990s, we have actually improved socially in our thoughts on mental illness. We haven’t made giant civilized leaps, but we have made some, we now understand that war has a cost beyond the lives taken on the battle field and that combat soldiers, even ones without PTSD, are high risk for suicide.
We also have a better understanding of how medications can make a personal suicidal without them knowing it. Medications like Chantrix, Gabapentin, Lyrica, and opiates all carry suicide warnings. My pharmacist reminds me of the risks every month when I fill my Lyrica, because even though she knows I know, she tells me every month, she still feels duty bound to remind me every month.
In junior high, we had a whole health class day dedicated to suicide awareness. We went through the risk factors, risk factors that today I think about and realize, are mostly nonsense, as well as symptoms of being suicidal. I remember them. I also remember that when one of the people in my friend group in junior high committed suicide, he didn’t display any symptoms of being suicidal. He wasn’t withdrawn or mentally ill or giving away his possessions… One day he was fine and the next the Real Malachi was calling me to let me know he was dead and how… and it was a shock. Like most suicides, there was no note, no explanation, we were all left to wonder.
However, we kept getting told it was preventable, if we had just noticed the signs, we could have told someone and prevented it. The real Malachi and I have talked about it in recent years a few times, wondering if it really was preventable… We both know the signs forwards and backwards because he wouldn’t be the last suicide we would both deal with, just the first… The only sign was one day, he told RM, his bestie, that he was skipping the afternoon’s classes and going home for the day because he had a headache.
RM and I realized, if there were warning signs, they weren’t the normal ones, he didn’t start saying things like he wanted to die, he didn’t give away his stuff, he didn’t lose interest in things, he didn’t withdraw from his social circle, buddies weren’t having to show up at his house to drag him out for a good time on the weekend.
He did have migraines though. Chronic Cluster Migraines as a matter of fact, a condition that does have a slighter higher than normal suicide rate, and he was on prevention medications as well as migraine treatment medications. Him and I had compared notes on migraine medications, both preventive and for the treatment of… He took depakote daily to prevent them and it hadn’t been working despite being on it for several months. I had also not found depakote helpful at preventing my migraines. We’ll never know, but depakote does carry a suicide warning and we both think the reason there were no warning signs was because the medication played a role in his suicide.
The point is, not every suicide has warning signs leading up to the act. And mental illness is less of a factor than we want to believe.