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It seems almost everyone knows someone who has committed suicide. Even if the act seemingly came from nowhere, or as a spur of the moment decision, many people who commit suicide are affected by brain health disorders. Their often silent pleas for help may have gone unnoticed in health care systems which are ill-equipped to handle mental challenges. Suicide is rapidly becoming a leading cause of death, particularly in certain age groups. What are we going to do as a society to help people when they are suffering?
We often look to celebrities as role models, and we are shocked when these people (who are, after all, normal human beings, too) commit suicide. Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, Robin Williams, Chester Bennington, Kurt Cobain, Pratusha Banerjee, Charlotte Dawson, Malik Bendjelloul, Avicii. Around 1,000,000 die by suicide around the world each year. Every 40 seconds another person takes their own life.1
The recent show on Netflix “13 Reasons Why” may have had an impact on suicide numbers. Boys between ten and seventeen seemed most at risk in the nine-month period following the show’s airing, with an increase in the suicide rate by nearly 30%. The show’s creators were questioned as to whether they were doing enough to prevent suicides, and if the discussions were harmful or helpful to youths.2
While the answers aren’t immediately clear, it is clear we must as humans embrace the idea that brain health matters and the conversation about suicide can no longer be taboo.
I think suicide is sort of like cancer was 50 years ago. People don't want to talk about it, they don't want to know about it. People are frightened of it, and they don't understand when actually these issues are medically treatable.
Statistics from around the world are sobering. We can no longer poke our heads in the sand and refuse to talk about brain health and the effects of poor health on our wellbeing. Rates of suicide vary greatly by country and region (suicides per 100K people):3
For the world population between 15 and 29 years of age, suicide is the second leading cause of death. Over 79% of suicides in 2016 occurred in low and middle-income countries. 20% of worldwide suicides are caused by self-poisoning, usually with pesticides. Hanging and firearms are also common methods.4
Everyone with depression doesn’t automatically want to commit suicide, and everyone who commits suicide isn’t necessarily depressed. But, there is a link between suicide and brain health disorders such as depression. A study followed 207 patients who were being treated for suicide ideation, and after a 5-10 year follow-up period, 14 had committed suicide. The Hopelessness Scale and the pessimistic part of the Beck Depression Inventory (two tools used by therapists) predicted 91% of the eventual suicides.5
It isn’t normal to suffer from depression during any part of our life cycles. It’s not a given in young adulthood, it’s not typical when we age, and we don’t have to suffer quietly any longer. Nearly 90% of people with clinical depression can be treated6, but they have to seek treatment first. If you know of someone struggling with depression or know of someone facing challenging and stressful conditions in their life, reach out to them. A kind word can be what they need to take that first courageous step.
Depression can be treated, and it doesn’t have to result in suicide. People who make suicide attempts have an opportunity to seek treatment, but only if treatment options are readily available, affordable, and convenient. 40% of people who eventually die by suicide made an earlier attempt.7
As leaders, we can have an active role in the brain health of our employees. We can set policies that support and encourage healthy brains and bodies. We can be the force of change, but only if we have the courage and determination to do so.
We all have a duty to society to support our citizens, and especially our young people who are most at risk for suicide. Suicide does not respect race, religion, ethnicity, where you live, what you do, or who you love. It’s time we opened the conversation, and by speaking about suicide we can hopefully help save lives. Stay tuned for my next article as we explore anxiety disorders.
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1. One Million People Commit Suicide Each Year - World Suicide Prevention Day, September 10th, 2011. Medical News Today, (2011, accessed 24 May 2019).
2. Bracho-Sanchez E. Teen suicide rates spiked after debut of Netflix show ‘13 Reasons Why,’ study says. CNN, 2019, (2019, accessed 24 May 2019).
3. Suicide Rate By Country 2019, (accessed 24 May 2019).
4. Suicide, (accessed 24 May 2019).
5. Beck AT, Steer RA, Kovacs M, et al. Hopelessness and eventual suicide: a 10-year prospective study of patients hospitalized with suicidal ideation. Am J Psychiatry 1985; 142: 559–563.
6. Suicide and Depression: Connection, Facts, and Statistics – SAVE. SAVE, (accessed 24 May 2019).
7. Suicide. Mental Health America, (2013, accessed 24 May 2019).
GM & Chief Creative Officer
About my Brain Institute
Relmi Damiano is the Co-Founder, GM & CCO of the About my Brain Institute. Founded in 2009 alongside leadership expert Silvia Damiano, the Institute’s vision is to democratise leadership & neuroscience by shaking up how we develop the human, the leader and the creative we all carry within.
In 2010, this dynamic mother and daughter team, produced the first “Brain Art Project” as a way to explore people's incipient interest in the brain. This was an international competition and exhibition that over the course of 2 years attracted over 1000 artists, scientists, designers, health practitioners and business leaders from all over the world who shared and expressed their different perspectives on neuroscience, creativity, mental health and wellbeing. The insights gained from this venture, highlighted the relevance of building a more holistic, design-driven and interdisciplinary approach to applying brain science to our daily lives.
With Relmi’s user-centered design, digital strategy and artistic expertise paired up with Silvia’s 20 years of experience in transforming leaders and cultures, they then released the i4 Neuroleader Model, Methodology & Assessment Suite, published the ‘Leadership Is Upside Down’ book and coined the term Brain-Friendly Cultures - all in 2013.
The purpose of their i4 Neuroleader Methodology is to transform current leadership practices and create the leaders of the future, leaders who are more conscious, ethical, compassionate, healthy, integrated, imaginative, intuitive and inspirational. Over the course of 4 years, as part of Vivid Sydney, Relmi & Silvia hosted the annual i4 Tales Conference & Design Exhibition, which attracted over 250 people each year to explore and discuss these topics in a community environment.
Since its inception, the About my Brain Institute has certified more than 800 practitioners globally in the i4 Neuroleader Methodology, ran numerous events and retreats as well as delivered brain-friendly programs in organisations globally.
One of their most remarkable projects was the ‘Make Me A Leader’ film, released in 2018. They self-funded and produced a multiple award-winning documentary that gathered highly regarded experts, professors and scientists who shared the secrets of how leaders can optimise brain and body performance to thrive in the 21st Century.
Relmi has also been a sessional Lecturer and Tutor at Sydney University and Billy Blue College of Design in design thinking, service design, human-centered design, user experience, entrepreneurship, business model generation, branding, communication design, innovation and strategy. She also mentored and created a wide range of student design briefs for live industry projects for film, exhibition design, data visualisation, 3D/2D animation, gaming, digital art and web based projects.