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POV: We Need to Talk More about Suicide

Slow progress on removing mental health stigma

21

Have we reached a tipping point in global mental health?

In light of the suicides of two teenagers in Newton, Mass., last month and other recent events, it’s time to take a look at mental health stigma. Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point defines the titular term as “that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” Have we as a society reached the tipping point in our behavior toward people with mental illness or in our ability to talk openly about suicide? Cancer and HIV/AIDS are two health issues that have reached their tipping point, but mental health still has a ways to go.

Many mental health and suicide prevention advocacy groups are doing great programming and are establishing their presence on college campuses around the country, including at BU. Active Minds is a four-year-old student-run organization devoted to increasing awareness of mental health issues, reducing the stigma of such issues, and directing students to behavioral health resources on campus.

Rosie Bauder (CAS’15) and Swanson Ninan (CAS’15) joined together to bring the Out of the Darkness Walk to campus in 2012 and 2013. Out of the Darkness became a student organization this semester and members are planning on doing the Out of the Darkness Walk again in 2014. Their mission is to raise awareness of suicide education and prevention, while reducing the stigma associated with mental illness and suicide.

My life has been profoundly impacted by suicide. In 1981, when I was only 14, I lost my Uncle Tony, and 25 years later, almost to the day, my Uncle Mike. I helped bring the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention International Survivors of Suicide Day observance to campus in 2012; on Saturday, November 23, we observe it again, at BU and in 300 cities around the world. (Find information on BU’s observance here.) Last year, I shared my survivor story publicly for the first time on BU Today, and it seemed people didn’t know what to say to me, so they didn’t say anything.

I realize it’s not a happy topic to bring up, but my hope is that these types of groups and programming will help push us to the tipping point so people will know how to talk to someone about suicide. More people need to share their personal stories. We can see signs of progress:

  • In June, the White House held a Conference on Mental Health, its first such conference in 12 years, according to doctor and filmmaker Delaney Ruston, whose documentary Hidden Pictures explores mental health care around the world. She says President Obama is specifically looking to hear college students’ personal stories about their mental health struggles. A 2012 National Alliance on Mental Illness survey of college students who were diagnosed with a mental health condition in the previous five years found that 64 percent withdrew from college because of their condition.
  • Last month, the World Health Organization launched its Mental Health Action Plan, described by Director-General Margaret Chan as a landmark achievement. It calls for a change in the attitudes that perpetuate stigma and discrimination. For the first time, member states have set ambitious global targets for monitoring levels of implementation, progress, and impact.
  • In another historic first, The American Journal of Public Health’s May 2013 issue was devoted to the topic of mental health stigma.
  • Last month, on the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s signing of a law that funded mental health centers throughout the United States, a forum at the Kennedy Library hosted Senator Gordon Smith (R-Oreg.), who says that silence is the problem in combatting mental illness.

I am hopeful that with the involvement of student organizations like Active Minds and Out of the Darkness, ensuring that the student voice is heard, and events like International Survivors of Suicide Day, we will reach the tipping point in our behavior toward mental illness and suicide.

Anne Dinoto, a collections specialist in BU’s Office of the Comptroller, is staff advisor to Out of the Darkness and represented the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at the 12th Annual Massachusetts Suicide Prevention Conference in April. She can be reached at adinoto@bu.edu.

BU’s International Survivors of Suicide Day observance will take place Saturday, November 23, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the George Sherman Union Terrace Lounge, 775 Commonwealth Ave., second floor. The event is open to the public at $5 for students and $15 for adults (financial support to defray that cost is available). Find more information on International Survivors of Suicide Day here.

“POV” is an opinion page that provides timely commentaries from students, faculty, and staff on a variety of issues: on-campus, local, state, national, or international. Anyone interested in submitting a piece, which should be about 700 words long, should contact Rich Barlow at barlowr@bu.edu.

21 Comments

21 Comments on POV: We Need to Talk More about Suicide

  • Nick on 11.21.2013 at 6:53 am

    So sorry for your losses.

  • Amy Caldwell on 11.21.2013 at 9:31 am

    Great article, Anne.

  • Jill Atkinson on 11.21.2013 at 10:01 am

    Anne, thanks for the good work you are doing. An important but difficult topic…

  • Jessica on 11.21.2013 at 10:15 am

    Thank you for talking about it. Every time we speak openly about these things, it chips away at the stigma and makes it a little easier for someone else to speak about them as well.

    • Anne DiNoto on 11.26.2013 at 8:52 am

      Thx for your comment. Exactly what I’m hoping to do…and it’s because of people before me who shared their story that encouraged me to share mine.

  • Shelley T on 11.21.2013 at 10:32 am

    Thank you for sharing your story and for helping increase awareness and support, Anne.

  • BU Student on 11.21.2013 at 10:52 am

    Excellent article. As someone who has been both a survivor of suicide and dealt with it personally, it is nice to see this article in BU Today’s email. We need to break the silence so that those suffering no longer suffer in silence. Thank you for shedding light on this difficult but relevant topic.

  • Christine on 11.21.2013 at 11:34 am

    I am so proud to have Anne as my sister. She is so inspirational to me in this work she is doing. Congratulations!!

    • Anne DiNoto on 11.21.2013 at 3:41 pm

      Thanks everyone for your comments and support!

  • Steph on 11.21.2013 at 2:20 pm

    A friend and classmate from my high school committed suicide last week.. It is important to have conversations about mental health and this article couldn’t have come at a better time for me. Thank you.

    • Anne DiNoto on 11.21.2013 at 3:40 pm

      Steph, I”m sorry about your friend. Anne

  • Meh on 11.21.2013 at 7:38 pm

    It would help if we stopped stigmatizing by saying that people who commit it are mentally ill.

  • Pauline DiNoto on 11.22.2013 at 8:30 am

    Beautifully written…so proud o you Anne….Mom and Dad

  • Andrea McLean on 11.22.2013 at 1:32 pm

    The awareness and conversations you promote through your article and your involvement means so much to so many. Keep up the good work.

  • BU mom on 11.22.2013 at 5:14 pm

    My son, a BU student, suffers from depression and admits to having thoughts of suicide. Unfortunately, he finds it impossible to reach out to professionals for help. I feel so incredibly helpless and frightened when he calls me for help 3000 miles away. Thank you for highlighting possible resources available on campus. Now, to get him to take that step …

    • Rosie on 11.24.2013 at 6:33 pm

      As a fellow student at BU, my heart goes out to your son. There are students like me who are working hard to make these resources more accessible and open up the conversation on depression, mental illness and suicide. It’s much more common than one might think. He’s not alone in feeling that way, and I hope he finds comfort in knowing that he fellow students support him and care.

    • Anne DiNoto on 11.26.2013 at 9:03 am

      Dear BU mom, you may want to contact Student Health (617 353-3569), Res Life (617 353-4380) or Dean of Students (617 353-4126) to share your concern about your son. Here’s more information.
      http://www.bu.edu/helpinfo/do/index.shtml

      Plus, realize it’s completely normal and common for someone in distress or crisis to not accept help or go for treatment; that’s what makes it so difficult, it’s the illness that tries to isolate our loved ones. At least he is reaching out to you, so the number one thing I learned when watching a loved one suffer is to make sure I was taking care of myself first, very hard to do but critical. There is hope.

  • Jeanne Van Orman on 11.25.2013 at 5:45 pm

    Anne,
    Congratulations to you for a finely written, highly informative article but especially for all the work you are doing to raise awareness on this issue, one that has touched many of us including me.
    Jeanne

    • Anne DiNoto on 11.26.2013 at 9:16 am

      Thx to my friends, family, coworkers and BU community for responding to my article. I’m very grateful. Over 60 people came…The event was amazing especially due to: survivors who came, Rev. Victoria Hart Gaskell, Marsh Chapel for welcoming everyone, Colin Applegate, family speaker, Families for Depression Awareness for sharing his story, Rosie Bauder and Out of the Darkness, AFSP Boston Chapter, Dean of Students office, Center for Pscyh. Rehab’s Dori Hutchinson and Larry Kohn, Student Health’s Margaret Ross, MD, Ben Atherton-Zeman and Fallon Fernandes. I’m grateful for the wonderful musical performances by BU Sweethearts and Chordially Yours. Special thanks to the many people and organizations who helped get the word out!
      Also, thanks to AFSP National office HuffPost posted my story: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anne-dinoto/

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