Why Suicide Awareness Must be Prioritized, Not Reactionary

In response to tragic events, Americans tend to adopt sequential process of reaction — initially marked by an outpouring of support and followed by a loss of interest in the public eye. Time and time again, our reactionary approach to societal problems fails to create meaningful change.

Just weeks ago, within a 3-day span, celebrities Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain committed suicide. These heartbreaking losses generated a global call to action in regards to mental health, with many people taking to social media to emphasize the need for suicide awareness.

However, America’s urge to place mental health initiatives at the forefront of both our national and community wide agenda has once again been forgotten.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for 15 to 24 year olds, yet many fail to recognize the need for awareness. Moreover, a staggering 17.2% of high school students reported in a recent survey of the CDC that they “seriously considered committing suicide.” Society tends to see suicide as a sort of “taboo” topic, marked by negativity and misconceptions; therefore, it often is not acknowledged as a national health priority.

Continuing the conversation on suicide and mental health awareness begins at its roots: stigma. From inhumane institutions to electroconvulsive therapy (formally known as electroshock therapy), misconceptions have served as the cornerstone of mental illness perception for centuries.

This is not to say that mental illness treatment and awareness hasn’t come a long way in recent years. We now see many celebrities like Lady Gaga and Demi Lovato sharing person mental health struggles. We also see activists lobbying for increased mental health service coverage on Capitol Hill. In the music industry, Logic’s hit single “1-800-273-8255,” titled after Suicide Prevention Lifeline, recently rose to the top of the charts.

However, the stigmatization of mental illness remains a deeply ingrained part of our culture that needs to be rectified in order to address the prevalence of suicide in the United States.

Misconceptions about mental health that bring shame and judgement to those living with conditions like depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder, foster stigma. The stigma and stereotypes drive people with mental health issues away from treatment, out of fear of rejection.

Research from the National Alliance on Mental Health shows that less than half of adults with mental illness conditions receive the proper treatment. This troubling statistic shows the detrimental effect of stigma and mental illness and underscores our need for education and recognition in regards to mental health conditions.

Without understanding the precursors to suicide or the implicit bias within our culture that permeates our treatment of mental illness, we cannot promote suicide awareness. 1 in 5 Americans experience mental health conditions, yet those living with mental illness are continuously left out of the national conversation. Society must hold itself accountable for the toxic environment created by stigmatization, educate our citizens on mental health and prioritize suicide awareness.

If you or a friend is in crisis and/or considering suicide, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, confidential support at 1-800-273-8255.

Penn State Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) provides group and individual counseling, crisis intervention and psychological and psychiatric evaluations for undergraduate and graduate students as well as prevention and consultation services for the University community.


Mental Illness Does Not Mean Mass Shooting

I Don’t Mind: Promoting Communication About Mental Illness

“Send Silence Packing” Raises Awareness on Suicide