Two suicides may not seem like a lot, but in a community of 300 people, it’s significant.
When I saw this story about a First Nations tribe in Canada dealing with two suicides in close succession, my first thought was “That’s smart of them, because suicide is contagious.”
Two suicides may not seem like a lot, but in a community of 300 people, it’s significant. This tribe has the right idea, though, in thinking of it as two suicides so far. If a small town had two deaths from flu, they’d look seriously at containing and treating it, because flu can spread fast. And like flu, suicide is contagious.
When we at the Good Men Project published a suicide note from a young man who’d killed himself, we took pains to place it in context and provide resources for people who might be desperate, because suicide is contagious.
What the folks of Neskantaga know is that when word gets around about a suicide, if it’s not handled just right, it can end up causing more deaths. The more we learn about human decision-making, the more we see that small factors are what tip the balance toward choosing one way or another. Most people who attempt suicide don’t do it again once they get treatment, because ultimately they didn’t want to do it. It was just a momentary decision; something tipped the balance to where it seemed like a good idea to take the pills, to pick up the gun, to yank the steering wheel over. And one of the factors that tips that balance is hearing a lot about someone else who did it recently.
There’s an oft-misattributed quote to the effect: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is engaged in a great struggle.” For far too many people, that struggle is against the urge for self-destruction. You do not know how many people you’ve talked with today might be fighting suicidal ideation. You can’t. A lot of them might not know it themselves; maybe they just feel like they’ve been really down lately because everything seems hopeless, and then they see an article about someone who took their own life, and it occurs to them Hey, I could do that. Without responsible reporting, that’s how the contagion spreads.
So kudos to Neskantaga. They know that when people get help, they don’t kill themselves. They’re able to reach out as a community and ask for help, and that is the right thing to do. If you’re reading this and thinking about doing something drastic, you can ask for help too.
If you feel like you might need help, there are resources to help you here and at 1-800-273-8255.