The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is holding conferences around the world today to raise awareness about suicide in honor of National Survivors of Suicide Day. Bitch talked to Joan Schweizer-Hoff, a grief counselor at Portland's Dougy Center, who will be speaking this afternoon at the Portland conference.
What is the Dougy Center and what do you do there?
The Dougy Center provides peer support groups for children, teens, young adults and families who have experienced the death of a family member or friend. I am The Associate Director and for the past 18 years have been responsible for the program aspect of the organization.
Why do girls attempt suicide at a higher rate than boys? Why do boys more often "succeed"?
The higher rate of attempts for women is attributed to the elevated rate of mood disorders in women including major depression, dysthymia, seasonal affect disorder and post partum depression. Men tend to use more fatal means such as firearms which is attributed to the higher rate. Suicide is more common in women who are single, recently separated, divorced or widowed. The participating life event tend to be interpersonal loss or crisis in significant social of family relationships. Women are more likely to have stronger social support systems and to feel that their relationships are deterrents to suicide. They also seek psychiatric and medical interventions, which may contribute to their lower rate of completed suicide.
Women attempt suicide three times more than men. Men complete suicide at a rate four times that of women. In 2006 26,308 men and 6992 women died by suicide in the US.
How have suicide rates changed within the past five or ten years?
Between 1950 and 1970 the rate of suicide for women doubled and tripled for men. The rate leveled off in the 1980 and 1990's. It has been decreasing since mid 1990.
How does media coverage of suicide affect the public image of suicide? What public perceptions about suicide would you like to see changed?
The public still sees suicide as a huge stigma, that the person who kills herself is selfish, does not think of those left behind. It is not talked about, people who know someone who dies by suicide are reluctant to talk about the suicide because of the stigma and reactions. I would like people to understand that a person who dies from suicide had a problem in their brain, an organ of the body. The person who dies from suicide is "not in their right mind" the chemicals that produce rational thinking are out of balance or depleted. The areas of the brain that deal with problem solving and impulse control are damaged. The person is in intense emotional pain, so intense, that to stop the pain they must die. A suicide is caused from a brain disease, just like a heart attack kills a person from heart disease.
AFSP has a media coverage policy which addresses how a suicide should be covered.
What is the best way to respond to a suicide or suicide attempt by a loved one?
If they are thinking of suicide, listen to them, allow them to share their pain. Get them help, medical and/or counseling support. Suicide can be prevented in most cases if the right interventions are found.