There are two conflicts depicted in Power of One: Preventing Suicide in America, and they both begin with the letter “S” — Suicide and Stigma. And these are old conflicts, historical conflicts. So we’re going to use history to help resolve them.
Suicide is not a new phenomenon. But it is a very sensitive subject that was once considered taboo. Until very recently, some religious institutions would deny funeral rites and even burial in a church cemetery to a person who died by suicide. In the Middle Ages, those that attempted suicide would be arrested, publicly shamed and sentenced to death. “The seeds of social stigma against attempters, victims and survivors of suicide truly took root during the Middle Ages,” theorizes the Jacob Crouch Foundation.[i] Conversely, there is recorded history from ancient Greek and later Renaissance writers, of suicide being viewed not as a selfish act, but rather a selfless act; this reflects the mindsets of those who contemplate suicide because they don’t want to project their hurt or burdens on others, which we today see argued by Right to Die advocates regarding those who live with chronic illness or are terminally ill; these various philosophies may also be explored.
For years, mental health issues such as depression and suicide have carried the stigma of shame, fear and the NIMBY mentality (Not In My Backyard). But stigma is dangerous because it is a barrier to a person accessing help, or being willing to be seen accessing help. Some experts in the suicide prevention and mental health community believe that by referencing stigma, it reinforces a negative connotation, and therefore less likely to reduce it. So there may be a challenge in how stigma is addresses and portrayed.
What is known is that mental health problems and/or substance abuse greatly increase the risk for suicidal behavior. The suicide rate is estimated to be 25 times greater for those suffering from major depression and bi-polar disorder than the general population.[ii] So this film will address these issues as they pertain to suicide, mental health and substance abuse disorders.
Today, our lexicon still uses the phrase “committed suicide.” Due to our history of prosecuting suicide attempt as a criminal act and/or thought of as committing a sin, families of suicide loss and those in the suicide prevention community are helping raise awareness and compassion about reframing this phrase – and to honor them and assist in that effort, we will only use the term “died by suicide” in this film and outreach campaign.
It is the director’s belief that by telling the history of suicide and suicide prevention in America, we can build a bridge to better understand how we think about suicide and how we’ve approached it in the past, so we can see where stigmas may have been created and where they now reside. This is how we eradicate stigma – by learning its roots so we can supplant them.
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[i] The History of Suicide. Created by the Baton Rouge Crisis Intervention Center, published via Jacob Crouch Foundation.
[ii] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Surgeon General and National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention: Goals and Objectives for Action. Washington, DC:HHS, September 2012