September is Suicide Prevention and Awareness month; this is a great time to become aware of this public health crisis and to help reduce the stigma in discussing this “taboo” topic.
Per the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP), suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in our nation; it is the 2nd leading cause of death for people ages 10-34, and the 4th for people aged 35-44. In 2019, 47,511 people in the United States died by suicide. In Connecticut, we lost over 400 individuals to suicide in that year; per the AFSP, one person died by suicide every 21 hours in our state.
With this issue being so prevalent, it begs the question of why isn’t it discussed more? How do we start the conversation? How do we help?
We can help to reduce stigma by being aware of our language when referencing suicide. People should avoid using the word “commit”; the word commit is often associated with crime or sin, and is connected to feelings of shame. Instead, change the language to “died by suicide” or “suicide death”. When referencing suicide attempts, avoid the words “successful” or “failed”; these terms can be connected to the thought that suicide death is a success or create feelings of failure when a person attempts, but does not die as a result.
Another way of reducing the stigma is to have conversations about it. Suicide is often discussed and viewed in the media; whether in the case of a death of a celebrity such as Kate Spade or for entertainment value such as 13 Reasons Why. When suicide comes up in the media, use this as an avenue to talk to your friends and family about it. Ask: how does it make you feel? Have you ever experienced thoughts of ending your life? How can I help? Listen attentively and without judgment.
If you have concerns about someone you know, ask directly “are you thinking of ending your life?” or “are you thinking about suicide?” Have a list of local resources, trusted supports, or national helplines that you can refer to. Remind that person that help is available, that they are loved and cared for, and life is worth living. It gets better.
Resources available include the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255, Press 1 for Veteran Crisis Line), the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (there are chapters by state and region), and the CT Suicide Advisory Board (www. Preventsuicide.org), the Trevor Project Lifeline (1-866-488-7386), and the Crisis Text Line (text “home” to 741-741).
Additionally in Connecticut, there are Mobile Crisis units that are available to respond to individuals in real time in the community to assess, safety plan, and connect to necessary treatment. To access these resources, call 211, and press 1 to indicate a crisis. Always remember that if a person is in imminent danger, call 911.
Research has consistently shown that asking someone if they have thoughts of killing themselves will not put that thought in their head; those thoughts are either already there or not. But asking the question CAN save a life. We can all do our part to save the world, by saving just one person at a time.