September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States and the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34. On an average day in America, 121 people die by suicide and many others attempt.
For many of us, the statement that the last year (or even 18 months) has “been difficult” feels insufficient for the challenges we’ve experienced. We’re still pushing through an isolating and anxiety-producing global pandemic. COVID-19 has disrupted our routines, dismantled relationships, and stunted coping mechanisms that once worked. Many of us feel more unsettled, alone, and more uncertain than we ever have.
Suicide is complex and never just a single issue. We teach people to “know the symptoms,” becoming anxious, withdrawn or aimless; feeling hopeless or like you are a burden to others; talk of sadness and despair; talking openly about ending one’s life. But the challenge is that, for many, these are not new behaviors. Some people may be at a chronic risk of suicide, leaving those that love them unable to be constantly vigilant as a mechanism to keep their loved ones alive.
Ask anyone who knows someone who has died by suicide, and you’ll rapidly learn the life-long impact suicide has. You’ll likely also learn that watching someone you love be in a place of mental despair and emotional suffering can be heartbreaking. When someone we love chooses to end their life and dies by suicide, we are altered, as is the world we live in. Our hearts break, our lives uprooted, our future changed forever.
So, what can we do to create a community with good suicide care? The best place to start is changes to our behavioral health system:
• Create easy, 24/7 access for people of all income levels to receive timely screenings and assessments, access to effective medications, and therapy appointments.
• Reduce provider shortages to ensure there are plenty of trained professionals for those in crisis to rely on.
• Strengthen economic safety nets to support the whole person (housing, food insecurity).
• Reduce stigma so talking about suicide is common and even welcomed! Talking about suicide can be a prevention tool. Promote connectedness. Check in on your people and feel comfortable with embracing the awkward conversations. Ask people if they are OK, show genuine compassion and concern, avoid judgement, and most importantly, let people know you care.
These are not small tasks, and they take funding, advocacy, legislation, and time – but their impact could be enormous in providing suicide care.
Getting through a suicidal crisis is possible – and services like the Foundation 2 crisis line, chat/text, and mobile crisis outreach can be incredibly helpful. We’re just one of many resources in this community that is here for you and those you love. Our services are for all people, any time, every time call today 319-362-2174.
Emily Blomme is CEO of Foundation 2 Crisis Services.