Reach out: One-on-one connections help reduce risk of suicide

Taking one’s life is unfathomable. Yet suicide rates have risen dramatically in the US since 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced this week. In South Carolina, we don’t have to look far. The CDC reports some of the highest increases in our local communities, where we experienced a 38.3% increase in suicides since 1999. Our neighbors in Pickens, Anderson and Oconee counties had the greatest number of deaths by suicide in the state, while Greenville was ranked the 12th highest county with 14 deaths by suicide per 100,000 people.

Our awareness of suicide becomes keener when persons in positions of fame take their own lives. It is shocking to learn that the celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain or the successful handbag designer and entrepreneur Kate Spade agonized in silence. These deaths of intention take our breath away because they place a public face on a disease often suffered in isolation and shame. Depression and bipolar disorders account for most suicides, with substance abuse as a potential contributing factor. The commonality amongst these issues is that persons often suffer in silence. In its newest report, the CDC notes that problematic relationship factors are by far the greatest contributor to taking one’s life.

Interpersonal isolation has increased dramatically with the increase of the internet. People are more prone to experience friendship in online chat groups and social media postings. We are less likely to join together in person for coffee or tea. People are more likely to send an electronic message than to pick up the phone. These trends increase the sense of interpersonal isolation. We don’t get the valuable face time and eye-to-eye connection that humans need. Feelings of isolation, withdrawal, disconnection, sadness and agitation can heighten depression and possibly suicidal thoughts.

As employers, we need to encourage our employees to feel empowered to ask for help. As a community, we need to open our doors with trust to increase neighborliness. At schools, we need to promote learning communities. After school hours, we need to look for opportunities where children can play with their peers instead of retreating back into their homes.

People like Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain seemingly had access to everything. Sadly, they were trapped in their own fortresses of the mind. Hope via interpersonal connection is often our greatest asset. We need to use this tool to move forward. Look around today and connect to just one person. Ignite the hope within.

For more information on this week’s CDC report, visit https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/suicide/index.html. For information about county-specific suicide rates in S.C., visit https://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/usa/south-carolina-suicide

If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts or impulses, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or go straight to your nearest emergency room.

Bonnie Kessler, PhD, is a licensed psychologist who works in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at Greenville Health System. She earned her doctorate in psychology from Pennsylvania State University. Dr. Kessler has been practicing for more than 20 years

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