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Bastrop Daily Enterprise - Bastrop, LA
  • Expert explains choices behind suicide

  • Dr. Thomas Joiner has spent his entire career researching mental illness and offered some of the clearest answers about why people choose suicide.

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  • SALT LAKE CITY — A world-renowned expert on suicide recently provided training at the University of Utah School of Medicine.
    Dr. Thomas Joiner has spent his career researching mental illness and offered some of the clearest answers about why people choose suicide.
    Joiner described mental illness as a force of nature that needs to be respected and feared.
    “If you view (choices of suicide) as some form of weakness in somebody’s character, you wouldn’t do that with cancer. Neither should you do it with these mental disorders,” he said.
    His research is personal. Suicide in his family goes back generations. His father died by suicide in 1990.
    “It put a lot of urgency into the research program I’ve run for the last 25 years, trying to figure out and prevent future people from the same agony that my dad went through,” he said.
    He identified three risk factors:
    • The feeling of being a burden
    • The sense of isolation
    • The learned ability to hurt oneself
    “Suicide is a very fearsome and daunting thing to do,” he said. “To enact one’s own death is really difficult. It requires facing fear.”
    That could be one reason why soldiers and police officers may have higher rates of suicide. They are trained to overcome their fears. They're also trained to kill.
    “Killing is very hard to do, even in active military combat situations, because it is not really in our nature as a rule of thumb,” Joiner said.
    Many myths surround suicide, like the person was a coward or they were selfish and they made an impulsive decision. Joiner said the act itself is rarelyimpulsive.
    “What you see are impulsive people engaging in very nonimpulsive plans and actions that culminate in their suicide,” he explained.
    Another myth about suicide is that rates in the U.S. are rapidly increasing. They are actually steadying, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Joiner said the concern is that experts haven't been able to decrease the rates.
    “What may be happening is that we’ve been successful in some ways and that brings it down, but then changes that have occurred have brought it back up,” he said.
    One of those changes may be a disruption in social fabric.
    “The more disintegrated we get from one another — in neighborhoods and communities, in religious settings — it really doesn’t matter where. If we get more and more disconnected from one another, there is very strong evidence that shows that disconnect drives suicide,” he explained.
    Page 2 of 2 - Access to mental health care remains a huge obstacle in the U.S., Joiner said. Families must be persistent and find the right treatment, he said, and everyone needs to help fight the stigmas.
    “These are major medical conditions that kill a lot of people. They are common. They are treatable. They are nothing to be ashamed of,” Joiner said. “If we can get our heads into that space, we are going to save a lot of lives because we are going to stop being embarrassed and ashamed and go to the doctor and get better.”
    If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, KSL encourages you to call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.
    Upcoming events:
    July 19: NAMI will host the Gary Ludlow Memorial Ride, a bike ride for mental health awareness. More information: namiut.org.
    Aug 16: The Utah Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention will host a walk in Vernal. More information: afsp.org
    Sept 13: The Salt Lake City Walk will take place at Sugarhouse Park. More information: afsp.org
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