Skip Content

Preventing Suicide Is Everyone’s Business

Bruce BirdSuicide is in the news again as two popular celebrities, Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, took their own lives.

Last week at our Board Outcomes and Quality Committee meeting, we reviewed how Vinfen works to prevent and respond to incidents, which occur in our services, including suicides.

For Vinfen, the population we serve has very significant risks for self harm. In this past year, the people we serve had 357 suicide gestures that required our interventions, 42 serious attempts, and devastatingly, 4 completed suicides. I suppose the good news is that our system of care has helped stop a large number of potentially very bad outcomes, but just one completed suicide is too many.

It is a stressful part of the work we do with people who have serious mental illness and psychiatric conditions. And when a suicide completion occurs, it is distressing to everyone here at Vinfen from the direct care and clinical staff who work directly with the person, to other people we serve who know and care for the person, to their families and other providers. Our senior managers and clinical leaders all feel it too.

Having done this work for over 30 years, I still feel it – the frustration and guilt that we can’t do better, that we have failed someone. The rational part of us understands that we don’t always have the knowledge or tools to predict, intervene, and stop such an act, but we still feel terrible. We know that there are some identifiable risk factors – youth, being a male (although that is changing as suicide rates in women climb), suffering from addiction, a history of trauma, and a sudden loss or serious setback in recovery, to name a few of the more important predictors.

The fact that celebrities unexpectedly do it has consequences. It can sometimes lead to more suicides as people decide to imitate the gesture. But it can also helps the general public understand how limited our ability to forecast or prevent these tragic actions can be, even in people who seem to be leading successful lives.

Linda Rosenberg, President of the National Council for Behavioral Health, posted a blog yesterday that was on target- what we lack in the ability to predict and stop suicides in part can be made up for by engaging and communicating and breaking through isolation that sometimes comes with serious psychiatric conditions. To read her full post, visit Preventing Suicide Is Everyone’s Business Statement by Linda Rosenberg, President and CEO, National Council for Behavioral Health.

There is help available, and we need to be ready to engage to encourage people who are depressed or discouraged or suffering a setback to reach out to get that help, including from their families, friends, and care providers. It really is everyone’s business.