This is the first in a series of four columns on suicide.

Suicide is a devastating and life-ending event that has increased significantly in Vermont as well as throughout the nation. Not only does it end a life; it crashes into the lives of family and friends like no other loss, with a confusing, guilt-ridden, mind- and heart-numbing force. Those left behind often wonder how to go on themselves. Suicide and its preceding pain and anguish are no respecters of persons.

Suicide occurs in all racial and ethnic groups, among men and women, rich and poor, those living in rural and urban areas and across all age groups and faith communities. Men are four times more likely to die by suicide than women, although women make more attempts.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and the second among people aged 10-34. It most often occurs when people perceive their stressors to exceed their coping abilities and resources, and they subsequently experience hopelessness and despair. While depression and other mental illness are predominant factors in suicidal thinking, many other complex reasons lead people to consider suicide, and those risk factors change throughout the life span.

In young people, other common risk factors include family discord, heavy social media use, bullying, academic stress, poor family or social support, history of abuse and family history of suicide along with perfectionism, gender issues and substance abuse.

For the older population, risk factors can include poverty, medical problems and isolation along with such events as job loss and divorce.

Vermont’s high rates of binge drinking and firearm ownership are other contributing factors.

It is also worth noting that not all people experiencing these stressors will contemplate suicide.

Depression and suicide can carry a stigma. Another person’s depression can feel frustrating and inexplicable to those who have never suffered from it. Unfortunately, those experiencing depression and despair can be ignored or condemned by those around them. In fact, one in five American adults will have a diagnosable mental health condition in any given year, and 50 percent will experience some form of mental illness during their lifetime.

What would happen if we saw the despair of those suffering silently in our pews and community, if we viewed depression as a treat-able illness instead of a moral or spiritual shortcoming, if we reached out to those considering suicide? Deacon Pete Gummere wrote in his Vermont Catholic column last fall, “As followers of Jesus, we are called to extend compassion and support to the suffering. … God’s power to protect individuals from tragedies like suicide is … infinite. That power truly can be mediated through the Church; that is to say, through all of us.”

As a Catholic community, we view life as sacred and a gift of which we want to be good stewards. Responding to our call to deep and intimate relationship with God and others, Vermont Catholic Charities does everything possible to help those suffering physically or emotionally, to support them, walk with them and share their pain.

Sharon Trani is a nurse practitioner and marriage and family therapist who works for Vermont Catholic Charities Inc. For more information, call 802-658-6111.

—Originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.