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World Suicide Prevention Day

World Suicide Prevention Day (September 10) invites us to reach out especially to them to encourage them speak about the death of the person whom they loved and about how it has affected them. It reminds us that suicide is about more than statistics, writes ANDY HAMILTON SJ.

For most of us the years of COVID have had their share of doom and gloom. In such a climate even small pieces of good news are welcome. One such report told us that the suicide rates in 2020 and 2021 had dropped from previous years. One reason why that was so welcome lay in the frequent warning that suicide was a greater threat in the world of COVID. Awareness of the risk may have led us to be more aware of warning signs and to reach out to people who were at risk.

World Suicide Prevention Day reminds us that suicide is about more than statistics. Each occasion when someone takes their own life is a tragedy for themselves and for their friends and relatives. The realisation that so many lives with all their possibility have been cut off, and that the passion for life has been smothered by disadvantage, by despair or by illness, is horrifying and affecting.

Every death affects others: parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, friends and acquaintances, who might need support to help them to navigate grief and trauma.

World Suicide Prevention Day leads us from recognising the loss that is involved in suicide to ask how we can help prevent similar deaths in future. That change of focus should not distract us from the hard reality of suicide. An important element in prevention will be to help people to reflect and talk about the deaths of people whom they have loved dearly. In our culture it has been difficult to talk about suicide, and the silence has been very destructive. That taboo may be changing now that we have been made more aware of the risks of suicide and the need to address them.

Because the suicide of people with whom we live is so confronting and distressing, we can be tempted to deny it or to shut it out. It breeds silence. The initial silence of incomprehension that any person would take their own life; the silence of inner confusion in which grief and sympathy are mingled with anger; the eloquent silence saying that we have no words that fit; the silence of shame that suicide should have insinuated itself into our family, our circle;  the silence of guilt that we should have anticipated and prevented this death.

The risk of silence is that our grief, anger and despair may fester within it.  That is one reason why some who are impacted by their loss to suicide have also taken their own lives. World Suicide Prevention Day invites us to reach out especially to them to encourage them speak about the death of the person whom they loved and about how it has affected them. Jesuit Social Services’ Support After Suicide program has for many years provided a safe environment in which people can break through the silence, fear and shame that so often surround suicide.

World Suicide Prevention Day is a time for valuing community as the place in which hope can grow and health be restored. It is about listening and talking to one another.