Community Awareness Rallying to End Suicide

November 13, 2017

In 2015, a tragic fire at St. Paul’s By the Sea in Ocean City, Maryland took the life of the pastor and a troubled man whom the church had served off and on. While not a “mass” tragedy by the media’s definition, the act bears a distinct resemblance to the suicide/homicide that took place in Texas last week. After other suicide/homicide events (Sandy Hook, for example) suicide prevention and mental health experts advised that if we do not first think of these catastrophes as suicides, with the added twist of the victim’s wanting to “take as many people as possible with them,” we will not find a way to prevent them.

The American Association of Suicidology is one of the most reliable sources for suicide prevention information and suicide data in the country.  Following the shooting in Texas, the AAS President echoed the need to focus on the suicide if one hopes to find a path to prevention:

“Mass shootings are complex and tragic phenomena comprised of multiple contributing factors. According to American Association of Suicidology expert members and recent research, suicidality of the perpetrator of a mass shooting may be an important underlying factor.

Julie Cerel, PhD, President of the American Association of Suicidology, says, "It is imperative that more research is funded and conducted to help us determine who is at most risk of suicide and killing others as part of their suicidal act."

Experts on the phenomenon of murder-suicide from AAS highlight the following points: 

  • Research suggests that individuals who perpetrate murder-suicides are often primarily driven by thoughts of suicide.
  • Easy access to firearms may be the difference between having thoughts of murder-suicide versus acting on those thoughts.
  • The vast majority of people who are suicidal do not perpetrate mass murder. Murder-suicides, while alarming, are very rare events that deserve further study and consideration. Suicide, as well as mass shootings and cases of mass violence, are often the result of multiple determinants and cannot be adequately explained by simplistic motivations. Attributing such motivations to a person's act of mass murder can trivialize the tragedy and increase the discrimination surrounding mental health.

Mass shootings are a major public health issue in need of nuanced understanding. Therefore it is critical that we have better data to know how to reduce the likelihood that they unfold on a regular basis, simultaneously decreasing exposure to trauma, violence, and suicide.”