Mental Health

Ignoring suicide heightens stigma of mental illness

. June 18, 2006
I am writing regarding a small news item in the June 11 edition of the Sunday Rutland Herald and Times Argus that noted, “Hartford police have a long time policy of not identifying suicide victims.” We will know that we have overcome our deep discrimination against a mental illness such as major depression for what it is — an illness, like any other, which can be severe enough to sometimes result in death — when we no longer believe we have to hide suicide as a shameful secret.

As long as we still believe we must protect those who suffer from mental illness in ways that label them as different from those who die from other illnesses, we are still projecting our fears and ignorance, contributing to both public stigma and the terrifying obstacle it creates for those who need to seek treatment.

The outcome of that stigma against seeking treatment can be deadly, and we don’t even recognize the scope of the epidemic, because we refuse to identify the victims.

On average, 78 Vermonters die by suicide each year compared to 14 who are victims of a homicide.

Among our younger adults, our most recent statistics from 2002 show that suicide is the second leading cause of death among those ages 15 to 34; it is the third leading cause of death for children ages 10 to 14. Overall, suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in Vermont (contrasted to 11th nationally.)

Even to the extent that we know the numbers, the people remain faceless victims. Keeping an illness in the closet will never help it be effectively addressed.

Rep. Anne Donahue


Anne Donahue is a member of the Human Services Committee and a mental health advocate who has a chronic mental illness.

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