The world observes Suicide Prevention Day on September 10, 2017, inspiring us to take a minute, change a life.
Conrad Roy III. Chester Bennington. Mallory Grossman. Their names and their stories continue to fill our news feeds. Three people who never met, now inextricably linked with countless others who have died by suicide. Every 13 minutes, someone in the United States dies by suicide. That’s 121 people daily and nearly 45,000 people annually. Globally that number increases to over 800,000 deaths annually, with millions more attempts. Now one of the leading causes of death in both the U.S. and abroad, suicide is a major public health concern.
A Week of Hope for Those in Pain
From grassroots nonprofits to international organizations, groups across the globe are working tirelessly to combat this epidemic, and they’re planning to unite millions with an international event held annually to raise awareness about suicide and to champion prevention efforts: World Suicide Prevention Day.
“We observe World Suicide Prevention Day to reach out to those affected by suicide, raise awareness and connect individuals with suicidal ideation to treatment services. It is also important to ensure that individuals, friends and families have access to the resources they need to address suicide prevention” (National Alliance on Mental Illness).
Organized by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) and sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO), the 15th annual World Suicide Prevention Day will be held on September 10, 2017. Here in the United States, World Suicide Prevention Day serves as the kickoff event of National Suicide Prevention Week, held this year September 10-16. Activists from across the globe work to let others know they’re not alone, that help is available and that hope is real.
There’s No Age Limit to Pain and Suffering
“Adults have a way of thinking we’ve cornered the market on psychological pain, but this is not the case. Children feel as deeply as adults, love as deeply and certainly suffer as deeply, but often do not have the cognitive ability to think through problems alone.” That’s what therapist Lori Litche-Brill wrote in a personal essay for The Mighty in 2016 after learning about the death of her former patient, who died by suicide at just 10 years old. Tragically, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for youth and young adults aged 15 to 24. Litche-Brill’s patient was bullied at school, didn’t have many friends and experienced family problems at home — circumstances that resulted in too much pain for one 10-year-old to carry any longer. Lori shares her patient’s story to remind us that anyone, even children, can suffer immense pain and suicidal ideation and that it’s never too early to reach out to people who are struggling.
Recognizing the Warning Signs of Suicide
“Suicide is the final act, but it starts much earlier than this.” Dr. Amy Ellis, a clinical psychologist, published an article on the controversial Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, reflecting on why the show resonates with her young patients. She says her patients who have struggled with mental health and addiction issues share one common thread: trauma. A person’s traumatic experience, if left untreated, will eventually manifest itself, whether in risky behaviors, substance use, self-harm and/or poor health outcomes, etc.
In order to help someone who is struggling with, or at risk for, suicide, it is important to recognize potential warning signs.
The following are just a few signs that someone may be at risk for suicide:
- Talking about wanting to die
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
- Withdrawing or feeling isolated
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
Having the Conversation: Opening the Doors for Hope
“Talking about suicide does not lead to suicide. Talking about suicide gives a voice to the feelings underlying the suicidal ideation,” wrote Dr. Amy Ellis. It’s normal to feel scared when someone discloses thoughts of suicide, but talking to them about their feelings will not, as many fear, cause them to hurt themselves. In fact, it may save their lives. It’s important to take seriously disclosures of self-harm or suicidal ideation, and to find ways to assist that are safe for both you and the person involved.
Below are examples of how to assist someone who is expressing suicidal thoughts:
- Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide.
- Be willing to listen. Allow expressions of feelings. Accept the feelings.
- Be nonjudgmental. Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether feelings are good or bad. Don’t lecture on the value of life.
- Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.
- Get help from people or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.
Immediate assistance can be found through resources like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or through the Crisis Text Line (by texting 741741 to be connected to a crisis counselor), which is currently available in the U.S. If you fear you cannot assist the person safely or that you need more help, another option is calling 911.
Breaking the Silence: The Bravery in Seeking Help
“Take a minute, change a life.” That’s this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day tagline. Seeking help can take one minute, whether it’s reaching out to a family member, a friend or a professional. It takes a minute of courage to say that pain is real but so is hope. The stigma that surrounds taking medication for mental health conditions and the topic of suicide in general has been damaging and can isolate those who are struggling, but thankfully the conversation is changing.
One man works tirelessly to promote counseling as a valuable resource for those struggling. Jamie Tworkowski, an advocate, author and founder of the nonprofit To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA), has openly documented his experiences living with depression and how medication and counseling have helped him in his darkest times: “We’ve learned that untreated depression is the leading cause of suicide, and that two out of three people who struggle with depression, they never get help for it. These facts point to the stigma surrounding mental health. It keeps so many people from getting the help they need and deserve. Too many people struggle alone, because they feel like they can’t be honest about their mental health. The good news is that we’ve seen so many lives begin to change when people break that silence and ask for help. In my work and in my own life, I’ve become a huge fan of both counseling and antidepressants. Both have helped countless people, and both have helped me personally.”
Suicide is not an act to be vilified as selfish. Instead of blaming the individual who died by suicide, we should be advocating louder for access to mental health services and for the abolition of the stigmas that surround mental health and suicide. It should inspire us to seek help or to be the beacon of hope for others who are struggling.
Take a minute, change a life. And if you’re struggling, look to TWLOHA’s campaign: Stay. Find what you were made for.