'Smiling depression' can make suicide hard to predict. Here's what you can do.

In the wake of suicide, we're often left with two questions: "Why?" and "How could this have been prevented?"

Neither have easy answers. The painful truth — as evidenced by the recent deaths of beloved public figures Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain — is that suicide is much more prevalent than many are comfortable talking about. According to statistics, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America, claiming more than 44,000 lives each year. More worryingly, a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control shows that suicide rates are on the rise — up 30% from 1999.

What's even more difficult to come to grips with is the fact that suicide isn't a monolith. We may have been taught to look for warning signs in friends and family during our high school health classes and college orientations, but warning signs are often not obvious. Nor, as the tragic deaths of Spade and Bourdain have made distressingly clear, are fame, fortune, and a life that is perceived as "good" inoculations against suicidal thoughts or actions.


If there's anything the conversation that's stemmed from these high-profile deaths has re-affirmed, it's that "suicide doesn't have a look." And while it disproportionately affects some groups — LGBTQ youth, for instance, are more at risk than their non-LGBTQ counterparts — the reality is that anyone can experience suicidal ideation.

Here's the reality: Suicide is incredibly difficult to predict. There are many reasons for that.

In a piece for Big Think, Joseph Franklin, professor of psychology at Florida State University, writes that humans love explanations that are simple and universal. Though this way of thinking is often helpful, it doesn't translate when it comes to the topic of whether someone will commit suicide. In fact, Franklin's research on the topic showed that even when taking risk factors into account, the most trained experts are no better at predicting actual suicidality than "someone with no knowledge of the patient who predicted based on a coin flip."

It would be easiest if there were incontrovertible proof that depression was the main cause of suicide, but human nature is far too complex for that. Though depression is the "leading causes of disability worldwide" according to the World Health Organization, not everyone who lives with it experiences suicidal ideation. Nor, according to experts, is depression by itself the main cause of suicide.

There are also other factors at work. Many people who live with depression may not even know that they're experiencing symptoms of the disorder. And so many people try to push through the pain of depression with atypical symptoms — where the person appears fine to others — that is now colloquially known as smiling depression. Then there's the fact that despite long-held cultural beliefs about suicide, not all people who die by suicide telegraph their intentions to others. Nor are all suicides planned. Impulsivity and access to lethal means are also important factors that must be considered.

This means that it's more important than ever to show up for the people in our lives.

Just because suicide is hard to predict now, doesn't mean it will always be. And new advances in technology — specifically machine learning — are bringing researchers closer to more reliably being able to recognize who is more at risk and when.

But that technology is still years away, which means that it's on us to reach out and take action when we notice warning signs in our friends and loved ones.

Making the public at large aware of hotlines and suicide prevention centers is important, but it's also essential that we recognize that not everyone will want to, or even know that they can, utilize these services. And the stigma that surrounds mental illness often makes it feel impossible to ask for help, no matter who you are.

The most important thing we can do is be present for those that we care about. It may feel strange to call up a friend just to check up on how they're doing, but the even the smallest amount of human contact can't be overstated.

Think about your own dark times — everyone has them: When it felt like it would be too much to even text a friend, what would it have been like to receive a message from them first, just making sure you're doing OK? Would you have considered it intrusive? Or would it have been a relief to have someone just be there?

Don't be afraid to talk — even if it's about your concern that the person you're reaching out to may be experiencing suicidal thoughts. Open and compassionate conversation about suicide doesn't lead to a higher risk. Instead, it allows the person who's struggling to name what's going on and share their feelings.  Often, that's the first step to getting help.

If you or someone you know is struggling, know that there are immediate resources available if you're in a crisis. There are many organizations to become familiar with, including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-8255, the Crisis Text Line (text "HOME" to 741741), and the Trevor Project 866-488-7386.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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via US Secretary of Defense / Flickr and The Today Show

As the nation braces itself for the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial, President Biden has embraced the family of George Floyd at what has to be an incredibly stressful time.

Following closing arguments in the Chauvin trial on Monday, Judge Peter Cahill has sent jurors to deliberate. The verdict is expected to come in the next few days.

"He was just calling," George's brother, Philonise Floyd, said about the president. "He knows how it is to lose a family member, and he knows the process of what we're going through. So he was just letting us know that he was praying for us, hoping that everything will come out to be OK."

Biden lost his wife and one-year-old daughter in a tragic car accident in 1972 and his son Beau to cancer in 2015.

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2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

Not only has TurboTax Live helped millions of people get their taxes done right, but this year they've also celebrated people who uplifted their communities during a difficult time by surprising them with "little lifts" to help out even more.

Here are a few of their stories:


Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

"As a hairdresser and salon owner, 2020 was extremely challenging," says Julz. "Being a hairdresser has historically been a recession-proof industry, but we've never faced global shut down due to health risk, or pandemic, not in my lifetime. And for the first time, hairdressers didn't have job security."

Julz had to shut down her salon and go on unemployment benefits for the first time. She also had to figure out how she was going to support herself, her staff and her business during this difficult time. But many other beauty industry professionals didn't have access to the resources they needed, so Julz decided to help.

"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

Julz connected with a TurboTax Live expert who helped her understand how unemployment affected her taxes and gave her guidance on filing quarterly estimated taxes for her small business. "I was terrified to sit at a computer and tackle this mess of receipts," Julz says, so "it was great to have some virtual handholding to walk me through each question."

In addition to giving Julz the personalized tax advice she needed, TurboTax Live surprised her with a "little lift" that empowered her to help even more beauty professionals. "When my tax expert Diana surprised me with a little lift, I was moved to tears," says Julz. "With that little lift, I was able to establish a scholarship fund to help get other hairdressers the education they deserve."


Alana, new mom

Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

So, Alana took it as a sign: she decided to launch her own business so she could support her new baby, and that's exactly what she did. She started a feel-good company that specializes in creating affirmation card decks — and she's currently in the process of starting a second, video-editing business.

TurboTax Live answered Alana's questions about her taxes and gave her some much-needed advice as she prepared to launch her businesses. Thanks to their "little lift," they provided her with a little emotional support too.

"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

"As a teacher, I had to completely revamp everything," he says, so that he could keep his students engaged while teaching online. "At the beginning, it was a nightmare because I had no idea. I had to go from A-Z within a couple of weeks."

Michael's TurboTax Live expert answered his questions about how working from home affected his taxes and helped him uncover surprising tax deductions. To top it all off, his expert surprised him with brand new science equipment and supplies, which allowed him to create an entire line of classes on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. "Now I can truly potentially reach millions of children with my lessons," he says. "I would never have taken that leap if not for the little lift from TurboTax Live."



Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

He knew he had to pivot — so he began offering small virtual group workshops for student leadership groups at middle and high schools.

"This allowed me to work with student leaders to plan how they would continue making a positive impact on their school community," he says. He wasn't sure how being remote would affect his taxes, but TurboTax Live Self-Employed gave him the advice and answers that he needed to keep more money in his pocket at tax time — and the little lift he received from them has helped him serve even more students.

"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

Filing your taxes doesn't have to be intimidating, especially after a year like 2020. TurboTax Live experts can give you the "little lift" you need to get your taxes done. File with the help of an expert or let an expert file for you! Go to TurboTax Live to get started.