Thursday, September 2, 2010

“Failing.” Thursday, Sept. 2, 1010.

“Suicide is man’s way of telling God, ‘You can’t fire me – I quit.’” – Bill Maher

Some statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health: There are 10.9 suicide deaths in the U.S. each year per 100,000 people. An estimated 12 to 25 attempted suicides occur for every suicide death. There are an estimated 5 million Americans living today who have attempted suicide.

That means that there are up to 25 “failed” attempts for every “successful” suicide, and 5 million people living in the U.S. who have been “unsuccessful” at ending their lives.

Isn’t it strange, what language we use? Can you think of another human endeavor in which the result of being “successful” is death?

When I was in high school, a girlfriend of mine made a “minor” suicide attempt by swallowing a handful of aspirin. She wasn’t trying to die; she was hoping a boy she liked would take notice. She threw up, went to bed and came to school the next day to tell everyone what she’d done. The response from another boy who was in our church youth group? “Kimmy, you’re suck a fuck-up you can’t even kill yourself right.”

I don’t remember whether the object of Kimmy’s desire was influenced by her actions. I think he became even more determined to stay away from her. But that response stuck with me. It was a cruel thing to say, but now, as an attempt survivor, I admit to having similar thoughts about myself.

Recently an SAS member started a wonderful website,, for we attempt survivors. (Note that the phrase “suicide survivors” is usually reserved for friends and family left behind. There really is no universal term for those of us who have attempted.) At first, the language on the index page referred to “successful” and “failed” attempts. I pointed out how hurtful this language can be, and the creator of the site graciously changed the language.

A large percentage of people who have “failed” at a suicide attempt do attempt again. Some get it “right” on the second or third try; some attempt again and again and again and keep “failing.” Websites and magazine articles about suicide refer to the acts in just this way. The more I see those terms, the more offended I get.

I propose we make a concerted effort to stop referring to suicide attempts as “failed” or “successful.” Someone who survives an attempt is dealing with enough pain and stigma – there is no need to feel like a “failure” on top of it all. Even the term “complete” and “incomplete” suggest the individual has done something “wrong” by not taking enough pills or not cutting their wrists in the “right” direction.

No, we are not “failures.” We are SURVIVORS. And to survive takes strength. It’s my hope that all of us who have SURVIVED will be willing to continue that uphill battle of healing so that we never threaten our own lives again.

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