By Christine Moutier, MD
Chief Medical Officer, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
The recent media discussion about suicide ignited by the death of Robin Williams was a stark reminder of the many misconceptions people have about suicide. Too often people attribute suicide to a single life event — like a divorce or the loss of a job — when the reality is that it results from many factors. But what’s become increasingly clear is that suicide is often the fatal endpoint of a long struggle with a chronic mental illness like depression or bipolar disorder.
These chronic illnesses, though not curable, are treatable. But the bigger problem right now is that only 1 in 5 people living with mental health problems seeks treatment. And this problem doesn’t just apply to suicide prevention — the disability that accompanies depression alone is predicted to be the leading cause of medical disability in the world in the next 10 years. To address this suffering we need to change our culture from one where people are embarrassed to seek help for mental health problems to one where taking care of your mental health is the smart thing to do.
But the reality is that, even if more people seek help, we won’t be able to prevent every suicide. As with any chronic condition, there is no cure for chronic mental disorders like depression or bipolar disorder. They can be managed with treatment, but their symptoms can be resistant to even the best care. Like some forms of cancer, some cases of mental disorders can be fatal.
We can get more people to seek help, though. Especially now that parity law requires insurance plans to cover mental health services. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has set a goal to reduce the annual suicide rate 20% by 2025. We can and will save lives, and improve the lives of countless others.
If you know someone who may be struggling with mental health problems, encourage them to seek help. You might just save their life.
The Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK
Dr. Christine Moutier is the Chief Medical Officer for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Her work has appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the American Journal of Psychiatry, Academic Medicine, and many other scholarly publications