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Op-ed

Joyful demeanor of Stephen ‘tWitch’ Boss masked deeper struggles. Here are suicide signs to watch for and how to talk about it. | GUEST COMMENTARY

Stephen "tWitch" Boss presents the award for top Latin artist at the Billboard Music Awards on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. The longtime DJ and co-executive producer on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” has died by suicide at the age of 40.(AP)

The death by suicide of DJ, actor, dancer, father of three, and all-around nice guy Stephen “tWitch” Boss has alarmed and saddened a nation. Not long before his death, tWitch and his wife, Allison Holker, were celebrating their ninth wedding anniversary and posting fun dance videos on social media. Theirs seemed a charmed life of goofiness and love. Perhaps that’s why the news that tWitch died by suicide is so shocking to many: He did not fit any of the many unhelpful stereotypes of individuals who take their own lives.

Over the course of my career, I have met with people of all ages, races and life backgrounds who have contemplated taking their own lives. I can attest that there is no one type of person who attempts or dies by suicide. With 47,646 deaths by suicide last year, it is one of the leading causes of death. Men and minorities are particularly vulnerable. Seeking help is often seen as a sign of weakness, a source of shame, and not spoken about publicly. Among Black populations, suicide rates peak during adolescence and young adulthood. The suicide death rate for men is more than three times the rate for women in Black populations. Of particular concern are Black youth; among high-school-age children, a higher percentage of Black youth have attempted suicide in the past year than the overall U.S. population.

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TWitch was like so many individuals in our community that we meet every day: The exterior calm and joy he presented in public masked deeper struggles. Often, we cannot guess what someone might be dealing with. When it comes to talking about suicide, we continue to see a rash of public commentary questioning the “need to die” as seemingly everything was “perfect.”

In these moments, for us, a shared community of survivors, it’s important to lean into our kinder selves a bit more and instead of assuming perfection, acknowledge that human life and experience is complex and you never know what one might be going through in their personal private lives.

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It’s also not uncommon to see in print or hear phrases such as “they committed suicide,” as if someone committed a crime. This phrase has its origin from the times when suicide was considered a crime, an unfortunate reality even to this date for citizens of many countries around the world. Similarly, suicide attempts are often reported as “successful” or “unsuccessful.” Phrases such as these are not only abhorrent and counter-productive, but they also are harmful as they foster stigma and make seeking help less likely for those who need it the most. Instead, I would recommend we use terms and phrases like “died by suicide,” “suicide attempt” and “survived a suicide attempt” for a compassionate dialogue.

We can also help by bringing awareness to the warning signs and prevention strategies. If you are concerned about the safety of your loved one, there are several warning signs you should watch for. First, have they ever shared thoughts about suicide before? A previous suicide attempt is a significant risk factor. Furthermore, firearms continue to be the leading method of death by suicide. It’s important that access to firearms is limited for those in crisis and at risk of suicide. And most importantly, if you feel yourself at risk, seek help immediately! You can call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. In Maryland, you can also access Sheppard Pratt’s Psychiatric Urgent Care by calling 410-938-5302. One can also encourage a healthy lifestyle: diet, exercise, sleep, limiting substance use, connecting with people in real life, limiting media use, talking to a therapist and taking medications as prescribed.

Suicide is a serious public health concern, and we all need to work together to prioritize prevention. As a society, we also need to continue to advocate for greater public and private investment in our region’s network of providers to meet this increased need.

Finally, I’ll close by speaking directly to any person who has considered suicide: You may feel hopeless or that your life has no value. But I can tell you that’s not true! Together, we can create a plan for appropriate interventions including crisis support, medications and therapy.

If your loved one is struggling, encourage them to seek professional help. If you are struggling, seek help. You are not alone.

Dr. Deepak Prabhakar (info@sheppardpratt.org) is the chief of medical staff at Sheppard Pratt, the nation’s largest private, non-profit provider of mental health, special education, substance use, developmental disability and social services.


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