Suicide affects people from all walks of life, sometimes in silence and isolation. It can reach across social, political and economic lines.
That was the message Sunday on “Finding Hope,” a CNN special report hosted by Anderson Cooper that featured a panel of guests and audience members affected by suicide.
The recent deaths of CNN celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and fashion designer Kate Spade are the latest reminder that suicide is a complex and growing crisis in the United States, where such deaths have gone up over 25% in the past two decades.
“I lost my brother Carter to it. Glenn Close nearly lost her sister, Jessie. She got treatment, and both are here with us tonight,” Cooper said. “So is David Axelrod, whose father died by suicide, and Karl Rove, whose mother did. And Zak Williams, who lost his father, actor and comedian Robin Williams.”
Axelrod is a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama while Rove served in the same role in President George W. Bush’s administration.
“In one way or another, everyone here tonight in this audience and with me on stage has been touched by suicide, myself included,” Cooper said.
Actress Glenn Close described the jarring moment her sister, Jessie Close, opened up about having suicidal thoughts.
“She said, ‘I need help. I can’t stop thinking about killing myself.’ And I was taken aback,” Close said.
Close offered to help her and did, but said when she looks back, she realizes she never followed up to see if more support was needed.
While it’s important to offer our help to someone having suicidal thoughts, it’s also important to constantly check in and ask how they are doing, said the actress.
And it can’t be a one-time conversation, even if they say they’re OK, Glenn Close said.
Zak Williams reiterated that it’s crucial to reach out to people who are struggling and love them unconditionally.
Jessie Close said when she asked her sister for help, a voice in her head was repeatedly saying, “Kill yourself, kill yourself.” She urged those having suicidal thoughts that it’s their responsibility to ask for help.
’My actions were different’
Former Navy SEAL Jimmy Hatch said his military friends saved him when he no longer wanted to live.
Hatch felt lost after an injury in Afghanistan ended his military career, and was going though a “transitional period,” he said. His military friends intervened when his wife ran out of options, and took him to a mental hospital.
“I wasn’t really crying out. My words were great, but my actions were different. And those guys who had been near me in gunfights and things like that, spent a lot of time with me in the past, they realized that in spite of my words, I was not well,” he said. “And they came and injected themselves into my life.”
Loved ones question why
Axelrod was in college when he heard that his father had killed himself. His father was a psychologist who’d helped countless of other people with suicidal thoughts.
Asking for help
The suicide rate in the United States has seen sharp increases in recent years. Studies have shown that the risk of suicide declines sharply when people call the national suicide hotline: 1-800-273-TALK.
- There is also a crisis text line. For crisis support in Spanish, call 1-888-628-9454.
- The lines are staffed by a mix of paid professionals and unpaid volunteers trained in crisis and suicide intervention. The confidential environment, the 24-hour accessibility, a caller's ability to hang up at any time and the person-centered care have helped its success, advocates say.The International Association for Suicide Prevention and Befrienders Worldwide also provide contact information for crisis centers around the world.
“It was so heartbreaking to think that he could do that for others, but he didn’t – he couldn’t – reach out for himself. And I ask myself all the time, ‘Why?’” he said.
Dr. Christine Moutier, chief medical officer for American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said it’s normal for survivors to ask questions about what signs they missed or what they could have done.
Rove, whose mother died by suicide, wondered if there was anything he could have done to stop her death. At the time, his mother was going through a dark period, but she sounded like she was getting better, he said.
When it comes to suicide of a loved one, it’s easy to get stuck on how their life ended, instead of how they lived, Cooper said.
“My brother died by suicide nearly 30 years ago, and still not a day goes by when I do not find myself thinking about what happened and asking, “why?” he said.
’It’s an illness’
Having suicidal thoughts should not be considered a stigma. It’s an illness that a doctor can fix if caught on time, Axelrod said.
“For 30 years after my father’s death, I never talked about it … I didn’t talk about it because I was impacted by the sense of stigma that somehow this was a blight on his character,” he said.
The stigma goes beyond the issue of deaths by suicide.