California Forum

As suicide rates rise, a survivor pleads for action

A child plays beside a message board filled with notes for loved ones who took their own lives during an event organized by the Cincinnati chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
A child plays beside a message board filled with notes for loved ones who took their own lives during an event organized by the Cincinnati chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. AP

The day last August that people in Sacramento’s restaurant and bar industry learned of Ben Moore’s death, his friends and colleagues gathered to toast and remember the bartender at Block Butcher and Low Brau, crying because he was gone and trying to understand what happened and why they had missed the signs.

A month later, another Sacramento man attempted to die by his own hand. As his friends and colleagues around the world worked together to try to find him, as multiple law enforcement agencies in Northern California looked for him, as his son feared losing his father, as a woman tore herself apart in despair – trying to get him to choose life – that man had no idea who Ben Moore was.

That man was me.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate has increased by 19 percent since 2007. Even more frightening, the suicide rate among those 19 and younger increased 61 percent, and among girls an astounding 128 percent. There are more suicides by firearm than all homicides.

Moore and I were worlds apart with different careers and life experiences. Yet we both made a life-ending decision because of our internal struggles. We both suffered from the stigma associated with acute depression. The only difference was that I survived.

I was the man others came to for advice and support, who always put his best foot forward, who always pushed the positive. After my suicide attempt, I made the conscious decision to be open about my own experiences because, as I learned the scope of the problem (it is estimated that an American attempts to die by suicide every 28 seconds), I could not be silent.

I have had many people reach out to me directly regarding their own struggles with suicidal thoughts. Some I have referred to the help they need. Some I have talked off the proverbial ledge. Some have confessed their own struggles to me. Many are people whom nobody would suspect. Some are well-known public figures with everything going for them. The recent deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain confirm that these struggles affect all levels of society.

As suicide rates increase, each of us needs to take actions large and small to lower these numbers. Policymakers need to increase access to mental health services. The Steinberg Institute in Sacramento, founded by Mayor Darrell Steinberg, has led the push for bipartisan legislation to address holes in mental health services in California, but the federal government needs to step up as well.

Even though suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, the lack of funding for suicide research shows a lack of concern by elected officials. In fiscal 2018 funding at the National Institutes of Health, suicide took 181st place at $81 million, while suicide prevention came in at 206th with $35 million.

Each time I talk to a legislator, or to someone struggling on that same path I was on, I think about Moore and all those who are struggling. All of us need to take action. Demand that lawmakers increase funding to the National Institutes of Health. Demand that they take suicide prevention seriously. Demand that they start caring.

And if you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800 273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741741.​

André-Tascha G. R. Lammé is an education and mental health policy and advocacy consultant. He can be contacted at atlamme@capcityint.com.

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