Guest opinion: Fight suicide — connect, communicate, care
Would you stop to help someone you know if they had a flat tire? If someone were lost, would you help him find his way back? If someone you know recently lost a loved one, would you reach out to her? Would you call for help if you were feeling hopeless or struggling with thoughts of suicide? Our hope is that you would.
Today, Sept. 10, is World Suicide Prevention Day. According to the World Health Organization, more than 800,000 people die by suicide each year. In the United States, suicide rates have increased by 24 percent since 1999. More than 42,000 Americans died by suicide in 2014. Moveover, 1.3 million adults attempted suicide and 9.3 million reported having suicidal thoughts. Many more people have been bereaved by suicide or know someone who has tried to take his or her own life.
At the same time that we see these numbers rise in our nation, suicide rates here in Colorado have been steadily increasing as well. In 2014, 1,058 Coloradans died by suicide – the highest on record. And our community is not immune — 18 Garfield County residents died by suicide in 2014 – also the highest number on record.
These statistics should concern every member of the community because suicide can be preventable and it begins with each of us. This year’s theme for World Suicide Prevention Day centers around three words at the core of suicide prevention: connect, communicate, care.
Suicide is a very complex issue. While not every suicide is preventable, we can do many things to help save the life of someone at risk. Three things we can do are connect, communicate and care.
Connect: Support from family, friends and the community are all important to someone who may be struggling with suicidal thoughts or behaviors. Simply being there for someone during a time of need can make a difference. Reaching out to a person who appears to be struggling can have a powerful impact. One needn’t be a “professional” to intervene. According to the Centers for Disease Control, students who feel connected to their school have a lower risk of suicide. This sense of connectedness is important throughout life.
Communicate: Communication around suicide should also be improved. Talking about suicide is important, but how we talk about it is even more critical. In the media, in social settings, among friends and families – it matters how we talk about suicide.
People tend to fear that talking about suicide will put the idea in someone’s head. This is unlikely. In fact, asking if someone is having thoughts of suicide can give him or her a chance to open up if thinking about suicide, opening the door to access help.
The way the media cover suicide can also impact behavior. Research has suggested that certain types of news coverage can increase the chance of suicide in individuals who are vulnerable. Therefore, reporting on suicide in media should be done carefully and from a public health perspective to help clear misperceptions and encourage those at risk to seek help. Sensationalizing a suicide death is insensitive and harmful to those experiencing this tragic loss.
Care: Finally, we need to care about suicide and its impact on the community. Without care we cannot move to action and things cannot get better. It is imperative to make this a priority. Every day many individuals throughout our own region are struggling. It is important for them to know that this is a community that cares and that help is available.
The more people who are aware of warning signs and how to help, the broader the safety net for those at risk. Another way to show that we care is to offer support to those who have been affected by suicide. An example of this in our own community is Heartbeat, a support group for survivors of suicide loss. The group meets at 6:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday of every month at the United Methodist Church in Glenwood Springs.
Sometimes we just need a helping hand or someone to talk to. So choose to connect, communicate and care. Choose to empower and support one another, and choose to help save a life.
Help prevent suicide by recognizing the warning signs and taking action.
• Talking or posting about suicide.
• Making plans for suicide.
• Becoming withdrawn or isolating from family, friends, and activities.
• Expressing hopelessness or feeling like a burden to others.
• Securing lethal means.
• Increasing the use of alcohol or other drugs.
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please call:
• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
• Colorado Crisis Services: 1-844-493-8255
Emily Yang and Laurel Little are members of the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Garfield County. The coalition is a community-led collaboration that works to raise awareness, reduce stigma, and provide trainings in recognizing and responding to suicide risk.
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Sticks in the mud. Overly cautious. Obstacles to progress.