Millions of people watched Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, last week. It was chuck full of surprises, such as the couple is expecting a daughter this summer and that someone in the royal family wondered about the tint of son Archie’s skin before he was born — Markle has a white father and a Black mother.
People here and in Great Britain rushed to defend or condemn the couple. They either were telling the truth or spinning a huge lie. Take your pick.
One of the biggest — and most horrible — surprises was Markle’s admission that she was so stressed by the way he and her family were treated that she contemplated suicide in January 2019 while she was pregnant with her son.
“I just didn’t see a solution. I would sit up at night, and I was just, like, I don’t understand how all of this is being churned out,” Markle, now 39, said of the intense scrutiny and condemnation British press. “I realized that it was all happening just because I was breathing. I was really ashamed to say it at the time and ashamed to have to admit it to Harry, especially, because I know how much loss he’s suffered. But I knew that if I didn’t say it, that I would do it.
“I just didn’t want to be alive anymore. And that was a very clear and real and frightening constant thought.”
How could someone with so much, married to one of the most popular British royals and carrying his baby, contemplate suicide?
The sad fact is that suicide is one of the leading causes of death around the world. In 2018, the latest year for which statistics are available, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Even sadder is that suicide was the second leading cause of death among Americans ages 10 through 34. In 2018, it was the fourth leading cause of death for Americans 35 through 54.
For the 20-year period from 1999 to 2018, the U.S. suicide rate increased 35%, from 10.5 per 100,000 residents to 14,2.
In fact, in 2018, there were more than two and a half time as many U.S. suicides as there were homicides — 48,344 suicides and 18,830 homicides.
As frightening as Markle’s admission is, the fact that she said she was denied help is unfathomable. She said she went to the royal handlers for assistance with her suicidal thoughts and was told she didn’t qualify.
Too many people having such thoughts don’t reach out for help. When they do, it is incumbent on all of us to get them whatever assistance is available. Unfortunately, that professional assistance is spread far too thin in America.
Because we can’t see a mental illness, we too often think that such conditions don’t exist. And when it comes to building budgets, legislatures too often put mental health assistance at the bottom of the list.
That must change.
Some sobering statistics:
• In 2018, the suicide rate among males was 3.7 times higher (22.8 per 100,000) than among females (6.2 per 100,000).
• The highest suicide rate for woman is in the 45-64 age range. For men the highest number by far is for those 75 and older.
• The highest suicide rate by ethnicity is for American Indians — 10.5 per 100,000 for women, 34.8 for men — followed by white — 8.3 per 100,000 for women, 30.4 percent for men. Black and Hispanic women tie with a rate of 2.9, with men in both races virtually tied at 12.
• The highest suicide rates are in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Missouri and West Virginia.
• For men, the most common method of suicide in 2018 was by firearm, 55.9%; followed by suffocation, 28.3%; poisoning, 8.3%; and other, 7.5%.
• For women, firearms and suffocation were nearly tied in 2018 — firearm, 31.5%, and suffocation, 29.9%, followed closely by poisoning at 29.3 percent.
Other methods accounted for 9.3%.
In 2019, the year before the novel coronavirus pandemic, 12 million American adults contemplated suicide, with 3.5 million making plans.
Too often, we think suicide affects other families, other groups of people, but that isn’t the case. Probably, most Americans have been touched in a close way by a suicide or suicide attempt. We at The Eagle certainly are not immune as we continue to mourn lost colleagues.
No person is too young — there have been reports of 5-year-olds attempting suicide, too often successfully. No person is too old.
The common response when a person commits or attempts suicide is, ”We never saw it coming. He or she seemed so normal, so happy, so well-adjusted.”
Please, take the time to talk to your relatives, your children, no matter how young, your friends and coworkers. And really, really listen. Ask questions to elicit true responses. Let those you talk to know that you care and that help is available if needed.
Hopefully, Meghan Markle’s acknowledgement of her own struggles will open all of us up to greater awareness of the epidemic of suicide.
As we lose more and more connectivity in this time of social media and social distancing, we all must work hard to stop suicide.