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On seeing news last week of first Kate Spade's and then Anthony Bourdain's deaths due to suicide by hanging, I had a flashback to the day in October 2014 when my mom called me about my nephew. David, who had had a troubled life but had made many positive changes, killed himself, leaving family and friends to mourn him, but none of the attention being given now to the latest celebrity suicides.

And that's how it is most of the time when an ordinary citizen commits suicide--unless it was done in a very public manner, or the person is well-known locally. That's how most local media tend to cover single suicides as well, which is to say almost not at all.

The same week that Spade and Bourdain killed themselves, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study covering 1999-2016 showing that the suicide rate in the U.S. has been increasing for years in nearly all states and across demographic lines. Nevada's rate actually went down slightly, the only exception, but still had one of the highest rates.

Nearly 45,000 people in the U.S. died by suicide in 2016, more than twice the number of murders, and the most common method was with a gun. Twenty-five states, Arkansas among them, experienced suicide-rate increases of greater than 30 percent; Arkansas' rate was up nearly 37 percent. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention states that, based on CDC data, every 16 hours on average someone in the state dies by suicide, which is the 10th leading cause of death.

The CDC found that Montana had the highest rate for the last period studied (2014-2016), at 29.2 suicides per 100,000 residents, followed by Alaska (28.8), Wyoming (28.8), New Mexico (26.0), Utah (25.2), Idaho (24.7), Oklahoma (23.5), Colorado (23.2), Nevada (23.1), and South Dakota (22.6). Arkansas' rate was just outside the top 10, at 21.2 per 100,000 people. The national average was 13.4.

Mental illness tends to be blamed more than it should. Tens of millions of us--about one in every five Americans--live among you every day without you knowing that we have a mental illness. For years I was a functional depressive--until I wasn't quite so functional. Getting treatment quite likely saved my life, and there are many more just like me.

Yes, mental illness does have something to do with some suicides, but the CDC reported that in the 27 states that use the National Violent Death Reporting System, 54 percent of suicides were among people with no known mental health condition. Sometimes that's because those people were never diagnosed, but there are other factors besides mental health that can awaken suicidal tendencies. Stressors like losing a job, terminal illness, or loss of an important relationship can also come into play.

Christine Moutier, medical director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, told the Washington Post, "I think this gets back to what do we need to be teaching people--how to manage breakups, job stresses. What are we doing as a nation to help people to manage these things? Because anybody can experience those stresses. Anybody."

In a nation that's become so highly partisan, it seems we've forgotten that we should be looking out for our fellow man--not just the ones who agree with us. The reasons someone may choose to take his or her life are deeply personal. Suicide shouldn't be used as a political pawn, nor recast to fit an agenda or conspiracy theory (as both Spade's and Bourdain's deaths have been).

If someone you know has been talking about wanting to die, feeling hopeless or being a burden, or if he or she has been isolated, experiencing mood swings, sleeping too much or too little, or acting agitated or reckless, experts say you should stay with that person, remove anything that could be used in a suicide attempt, and seek help from an emergency room or mental health professional.

We can do that much, can't we?

Many of us know someone close to us who has committed or attempted suicide. It could be the friend who was in an abusive relationship or was being bullied, or the father diagnosed with terminal cancer who wanted to go out on his own terms. Or maybe it was the highly creative person who seemed happy-go-lucky on the outside but was broken on the inside.

If you (or someone you know) feel hopeless and have been thinking of ending it all, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255. Since December, Arkansas has had a local office to field calls (Wyoming is now the only state without one), so can better direct callers to resources in the state that can help, which could be the difference between life and death.

None of us is immune to thoughts of suicide, regardless of status, party, religion, age, or gender. It is a truly human crisis.

And it's one we must not be afraid to battle.


Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Read her blog at Email her at

Editorial on 06/13/2018

Print Headline: Not without hope

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  • LRCrookAttorney
    June 13, 2018 at 8:58 a.m.

    This is a great story, mainly because, based on the numbers, there is a “suicide epidemic” in the United States. Congress needs to act and make laws where suicide is determined to be illegal. Make stores stop selling; rope, knives, guns, belts or anything that has previously been used by people that have committed or attempted suicide. These numbers are much higher than overdose rates, and we as citizens need to uprise for something to be done. (of course all in a sarcastic tone)

  • GeneralMac
    June 13, 2018 at 9:25 a.m.

    In my lifetime, I have had 12 people I knew quite well comitt suicide...

    (1 )cousin
    (1 )brother-in-law
    (4) co-workers spread out over years
    (3) friends.......they were all cousins, grew up quite close to each other and their suicides were over a 40 year period. One in his early 20's, (2) were retired and age 70
    (2) retired farmers in their 70's
    (1) wife of a businessman in our small town

    I was very close to some of them.
    All were male except the last one.
    Each one was a shock to me but there wasn't a thing I could have done or said that would have prevented ANY of those suicides!

  • LRCrookAttorney
    June 13, 2018 at 9:47 a.m.

    GenMac...However, the legislature has created an opioid epidemic, mainly because opioid abuse and overdose has reached the rich community and those are the people Congress (both R and D) listen too. Therefore, if they believe that stopping the production of any pills will curb the overdose by heroin then they are "duty" bound to pass legislation to prevent suicide. This is a given because more die from suicide.

  • Packman
    June 13, 2018 at 10:21 a.m.

    Thanks for writing this, Miss Brenda.

  • JakeTidmore
    June 13, 2018 at 10:43 a.m.

    Thanks Brenda. Like you, I do believe and hope something can be done to help turn thoughts of suicide into thoughts of living and coping. Like GM, I have a few folks I've know who have either committed suicide or attempted to do so. In February of 1978, my best friend tried to end his life when he felt that he was going nowhere in life and had accomplished nothing. I got a letter a few weeks later while overseas in Germany and in it he wrote:
    "Jake...the kid finally went through with what he has been threatening to do since time immemorial; ie, go at himself with great pace and abandon with a hunting knife. I've just been released from the hospital following two intensive weeks of both physiological and psycho type testing and rehabilitation. I won't go into the details surrounding this fell circumstance, but I did end up doing rather serious damage to my neck (in search of frustrated, I might add my elusive jugular vein (stock Mad magazine humor attempt may be inserted here at your own discrete matrix), wrists, and 7 (count'em) puncture wounds in the region of my chest and heart.
    I have a feeling that now is the time I need my best friend the most, but dammit! I have to finally get rid of some of my more pressing faults, and stand up and be counted as a majority of one. I most seriously lost all contact with reality, but am now hovering on the brink of flirting with some get-down tenacity to pull me through the rest of my (sic) life."
    To bring the tale into perspective, he slowly escaped from the valley of the shadow, finally got a teaching degree and professorship in North Carolina, and married a beautiful young German lady 10 years his junior about 15 years ago.
    I did write to him frequently during that critical time and we're still best of friends despite the distance of space and time between us. I don't feel like I actually brought him back from the brink. I think surviving the actual experience and re-discovering his own resolve was the key. Still, I was there when he reached out. One day he will return the favor if I so need it.

  • PopMom
    June 13, 2018 at 11:01 a.m.

    Thank you Brenda for a lovely column. I truly believe that more like 5 out of 5 people suffer from some form of mental illness. We are all a little crazy--just to differing degrees. People truly do need to be more civil to others. I also find refuge in nature--gardening and visiting national parks and wilderness areas. City life makes me a little crazy at times. Comedy also is a great stress reliever. The most important thing I've learned in life is not to compare myself to others. Life is a journey--not a contest. There will always be somebody smarter and prettier than me, but I fill my days with doing things that I want to do--with my family or friends or in solitude--and try to not think about the crazy man in the White House.

  • MaxCady
    June 13, 2018 at 1:14 p.m.

    What is it that makes some people more susceptible than others to want to do themselves harm? We've all been through hard times and life altering events. I've had them all, dad died when I was 15 y/o, been through a divorce in my 30's, 3 years ago I lost a lucrative job and 2 months later my mom died. Is it emotional resilience? I don't know, but through all that, the thought of suicide never entered my mind. There just seems to be a lot of discontentment these days.

  • GeneralMac
    June 13, 2018 at 2:46 p.m.

    ......"to do themselves harm"...

    I doubt any that commit suicide view it that way.

    The ones I knew seemed to just want to put an end to "everything" as they saw no alternatives.

  • GeneralMac
    June 13, 2018 at 2:49 p.m.

    Out of the 12 that I mentioned, only 4 were due to marital problems.

  • Packman
    June 13, 2018 at 4:15 p.m.

    PoopMom (not a typo - attempt at comedy) says we all need to be more "civil" while calling the person over 60 million decent, hard working people voted for POTUS "crazy". Not very good at practicing what you preach, are you, Poop.
    Although I agree wit Poop about finding refuge in nature, especially during duck season, just after daylight, with a flight of mallards cupping into the hole........