How Society Discusses Suicide
By Aaron Beatty
Benedict Carey, in his recent New York Times article, “Suicide Prevention Sheds a Longstanding Taboo: Talking About Attempts,” explores the recent move by the American Association of Suicidology to recognize those who have attempted suicide and survived and what this acknowledgment means for the survivors, the clinicians who treat suicidal individuals, research into suicidality and how society discusses suicide.
Though the stigma surrounding mental illness persists, nowhere is it more evident than in its relationship with suicide. Because of this stigma, survivors of a suicide attempt have long been silent or silenced. And this is not a small population we are talking about; there are an estimated 11 non-lethal suicide attempts for every lethal one – according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention, in America alone, nearly 1 million adults reported making a suicide attempt in 2008.
Carey notes that “People who have survived an attempt and gone public often say the treatment they got afterward — locked down in a hospital ward, with little chance to confide in a sympathetic caregiver — was dehumanizing.” He goes on to say that survivors further encounter reticence from doctors, therapists, friends and family to discuss their experiences.
From a research perspective, identifying survivors of a suicide attempt and studying their experiences could potentially deepen our understanding of the event itself and what implications those observations have on the treatment of patients. Psychologist and Riggs Advisory Council member Nina Gutin, Ph.D., elaborates, stating that these “lived experiences” can potentially “highlight the optimal internal and external processes involved in moving from suicidal despair toward hope.”
Dr. Gutin continued by saying, “These voices are not only inspirational to those who still struggle with suicidal thoughts and feelings, but also provide crucial information to clinicians, researchers, family members and anyone else who aims to understand and prevent suicide.”
This is a subject matter that touches the Austen Riggs Center in many ways., Jane G. Tillman, Ph.D., the Director of the Erikson Institute, has published her research on therapists as survivors of patient suicide and is currently the Principal Investigator on an externally funded study, “States of Mind Preceding a Near Lethal Suicide Attempt,” involving the study of participants who have survived a near-lethal suicide attempt.
Related to treatment, many Riggs patients are survivors of a suicide attempt or have issues surrounding suicidal ideation. In an open and voluntary setting, we rely on building a treatment alliance in a therapeutic community to continue the work of treatment with patients for whom suicide or suicide ideation is an issue.
To hear Dr. Gutin speak more about her interest in suicidology
Nina Gutin, Ph.D., speaks about her work on suicidology