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Art Callaham: Many questions, but few answers

January 20, 2013|By ART CALLAHAM

Recently, an acquaintance of mine used a gun to commit suicide. This person had been depressed for years and had several recent traumatic events occur that I believe added to the depression.

Though suicided by guns figures prominently in this column, I am not writing about weapons. This column is about mental health. 

In shooting incidents in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., the alleged perpetrator of the mass killing of innocent people seems to have been mentally unstable. The man who shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the Army officer who killed soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, also seemed to have at least some sign of mental instability.

Early in December 2012, Kansas City Chiefs football player Jovan Belcher allegedly shot and killed his girlfriend (also the mother of their 3-month-old child). Belcher later committed suicide using the same gun that was used to kill his girlfriend.  

Was Belcher mentally unstable? Did his profession create some instability because of the violent nature of his game? Or was it numerous concussions and head injuries? Was he depressed?

On May 2, 2012, retired professional football player Junior Seau’s girlfriend found him dead from a gunshot wound to the chest at his home in Oceanside, Calif. He left no suicide note, but did leave a paper in the kitchen of his home with lyrics he scribbled from his favorite country song, “Who I Ain’t.” The song, co-written by Seau’s friend, Jamie Paulin, a Nashville-based songwriter, describes a man who regrets the person he has become. Was Seau unstable? Did injuries or steroid use cause a problem with his mental health? 

How about violent movies and video games? Are they having an adverse effect on human mental stability? What causes these instabilities? What is depression? Aren’t we all a little depressed, certainly at some moment in our life? Is mental illness a disease?  What brings it on? Does the stress stemming from our “high speed” existence cause some problems with depression?

What about our environment? Does it factor into some humans’ mental instability? What about too much sugar? Mom always said that was bad for us. Are alcohol and drugs factors in mental instability? What about the violence we see each day on television, on our phones, in games and at the movies?

What creates a situation where a person wants to end their own life and then “take others with them?” A friend, when assessing a recent suicide, said, “Well, I guess he thought more of himself than he did of others.” 

Did the Newtown shooter want to commit suicide when he went to that elementary school? How about the Aurora shooter or the Arizona shooter or the Fort Hood shooter? Did they want to commit suicide? 

Here are some interesting statistics about suicide in America:

• Every 13.7 minutes, someone in the United States dies by suicide.

• Nearly 1 million Americans make a suicide attempt every year (that’s about one in every 300 people).

• Ninety percent of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable and treatable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death. However, most people with a mental illness do not die by suicide.

• Yearly medical costs for suicide reached nearly $100 million in 2005 (you can be certain it’s more today).

• Men are nearly four times more likely to die by suicide than women; however, women attempt suicide three times more often than men. 

• Suicide rates are highest for people between the ages of 40 and 59. 

• Native Americanss are most likely to die by suicide, followed by Caucasians. 

Across the nation, the suicide rate is rising — yet mental health care remains on the back burner. It doesn’t make sense.

Art Callaham is a community activist and president of the Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees.

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