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Contagion

Date: April 4, 2019

By: Fe Anam Avis

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
– I Corinthians 12:26

In my 20 years of suicide prevention work I have trained thousands of people to help those impacted by suicidal desperation. In nearly every instance, someone raises this concern: “Does talking to a person about suicide make it more likely that they will harm or kill themselves?” Research indicates that the answer is clearly “No.” Asking someone if they are considering suicide is a safe and caring question to pose to someone you are concerned about.

There is a second question with a more sobering answer: “Does an individual’s suicide make it more likely that others will attempt suicide?” Unfortunately, the answer is “Yes.” When a person dies by suicide, they model that behavior for others who are struggling. This ramping up of suicide rates in response to other suicides is called “suicidal contagion.” I encountered suicidal contagion when I was the pastor in a community where three students killed themselves in rapid sequence over a 7 month period of time.

Several factors can make suicidal contagion worse.
• If the person who suicides is a public figure.
• If the person who suicides appears otherwise successful and accomplished.
• If the person is a youth in a public school system. (In a school the contagion affects even students who did not know him/her personally.)
• If the suicide is followed by excessive accolades for the individual without addressing the problems that suicide creates.

There was a 12% spike in suicides after the death of Marilyn Monroe. Subsequent to the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, calls to suicide hotlines spiked anywhere from 25% to 70%.
In addition to expressions of sorrow and appreciation for the life of a person who dies by suicide, it is critical that we also express this thought: “Suicide is not a natural way to die. Because a suicide places others at risk for the rest of their lives, suicide has been called slow homicide. People who take their own lives are unable to see the tragic sequence of events that will unfold as the result of their actions. This blindness is a temporary impairment that is not to be emulated; it is a brokenness that needs healed.”

Our lives are intricately connected to one another. Suffering in one begets suffering in another; love in one begets love in another. When we feel alone in either one we don’t need accolades. We need help.

Love to all,
Fe

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