JUST PLAIN TALK: Despite the song, suicide is not painless

Staff Writer
Walton Sun
Buz Livingston

Everyone recognizes the melody of television’s iconic series "M*A*S*H," but few know the song’s title, “Suicide is Painless.” Robert Altman, who directed the movie, wanted some absurd lyrics but had writer’s block. Instead, his teenage son scribbled them down. As director, Altman got paid $70,000, but his son has collected more than $1 million in residuals from every episode’s musical score. On television, the melody plays while doctors often scurry to wounded soldiers. In the movie, the scene is somberly satircal.

If suicide was considered like other diseases, ballplayers would don colored gear to draw attention to it. While white, middle-aged men account for 70 percent of suicides, for Americans between ages 10 and 34 it tragically is the second leading cause of death. Overall suicide ranks 10th in causes of death in the United States, but the numbers have spiked upward. Since 2000, suicide rates jumped more than 30 percent in 20 states. In 2015, suicide became the seventh leading cause of death for U.S. males and 10th overall cause of death.

For surviving family members the shock must be far from painless, but we have underestimated the expense to society. A 2016 study by Brandeis University, the University of Massachusetts and Education Development Center found the annual cost was more than $93 billion or $300 per capita. Recommendations to reduce rates include funding for strengthening economic supports, teaching coping skills early in life, promoting social connectedness and supporting people at risk, like veterans.

In the United States, firearms are the leading cause of suicide. A gun in the home, like mine, triples the risk of suicide. Americans are eight times more likely to die by firearm suicide than other high-income countries. Ninety percent of people who attempt suicide with guns will die. The most common way to commit suicide is by intentional drug overdose, but more than 98 percent of these attempts fail. Strong background checks and protection orders, where family members or law enforcement officers remove guns, would reduce rates. Physicians should be able to discuss gun ownership with their patients without legal constraint.

We hear popular rhetoric about mental health funding, but talk is cheap. While the Veterans Administration had a worthy jump in funding for at-risk individuals, other departments faced cuts. The National Institute of Mental Health along with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Institute face combined budget cuts of over $1 billion. Reducing suicides rates by 10 percent would save $9.3 billion annually and countless broken hearts.

RIP Anthony Bourdain

Regretfully, I never read him before his death. He was a great American and a multi-talented man who left us too soon. He recognized food brought people together. He and Ted Nugent, stark opposites, could bond over barbecue. Don’t judge. Depression haunts many people, trust me, I know.

You can’t always get what you want, but Buz Livingston, CFP can help figure out what you need. For specific recommendations, visit or come by the office in Redfish Village, 2050 Scenic 30A, M-1 Suite 230.