According to the World Health Organization every 40 seconds, someone on our planet loses their life. That’s over 80,00 lives a year that are lost and nearly 49,000 of them are Americans. In addition, there are indications that for every life lost, there may have been more than 20 others who could have succumbed to this same overwhelming and devastating circumstance. These deaths not only intimately affect those closest to them, buts it’s a ripple effect of loss, hurt and confusion to those around them and their communities. What is it that is taking the lives of so many? Death by suicide.
Suicide is the act of taking one’s own life. Someone who takes their life by suicide may be suffering from bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression, substance abuse, PTS, schizophrenia or stressful life issues, such as serious financial or relationship problems. Regardless of what leads someone to take their own life, it’s the pain that can never be taken from those who loved that person who has now passed.
We are now currently living in a time where even those with strong mental health can start to feel weak. We have been asked to “stay home and stay safe” for many months, some of us have been asked to work from home, many of us are unable to see family and friends, and even now as the daylight hours start to dwindle, it’s easy to see just how easy those feelings of loneliness, anxiety, fear, depression and lack of hope can affect us all. What’s most important here is to acknowledge those feelings as real, valid and signals that you may need to help and support. Just as with any other health concern, when you start to see signs in yourself or even those around you whom you love, those may be signs it’s time to be proactive over your own mental health. Because as the headlines will tell you, mental health crises know no bounds. Suicide isn’t something that steals the life of just the poor, or just those living alone or just those who may have lost a job or family member. Celebrities have lost lives to suicide, some brilliant and talented minds have been lost to suicide and anyone we love, including ourselves, are not immune to the possibility of death by suicide. Any gender, race, or socio-economic status can and has been affected by this disease.
The impact of wanting to take one’s life can be a thought-out plan or a sudden urge depending on the circumstances at hand and the mindset of the individual. All cries for help should be taken seriously and should be dealt with immediately with the utmost of compassion and concern. Calls for help may be clear signals of someone talking about taking their own life, writing about it, drawing pictures, or they may be more subtle as no longer being interested in their usual interests, suddenly giving away treasured items or belongings. Hearing someone even talking about feeling hopeless are signs of potential suicide. Someone may share their signs in something as simple as a text or even a post on social media. All of these should be taken seriously.
If you suspect someone of being suicidal, start asking questions. Be sensitive but direct. Asking about suicidal thoughts or feelings won’t drive someone into doing something self-destructive. Offering an opportunity to talk about feelings may, in fact, reduce the risk of acting on suicidal feelings. Look for warning signs. You can’t always tell when someone you love is contemplating suicide, but you can look for habits that are not characteristic of them, such as newly abusing drugs or alcohol, talking about self-abuse or suicide, stockpiling pills, buying a gun, or many other things that you feel aren’t in their nature that make you think they are headed down a dark path. In the event of an emergency, and, if you believe someone is in danger of taking one’s life or has made a suicide attempt, the Mayo Clinic suggests:
- Don’t leave the person alone
- Call 911
- Try to find out if he or she is under the influence of alcohol or drugs or may have taken an overdose
- Tell a family member or friend right away what’s going on.
No one should be worried about being embarrassed or this being a false accusation. Saving someone’s life should be first and foremost.
Especially now more than ever, it can be harder to tell when someone isn’t being themselves. Reach out to friends. Call your family. Keep an eye on your neighbors. This is a time even while being socially distant we can still be a community of support to each other by being there. Don’t just think of those living alone as depressed and stressed, check on those who aren’t alone as well! Moms with no breaks, those working or even those who kids have moved back home due to Covid-19 are all experiencing stress. Some people have started up with old or bad habits during this time, drinking too much, not getting enough sleep, etc. Your call, text or note might be the little bit of light they need in that moment. Just being there will show you care.
Many people do not talk about suicide, let alone the aftereffects it leaves on a family or the community. Suicide is never anyone’s fault nor is it something anyone should be ashamed of. By talking about suicide, showing support to families and communities affected, and helping to make resources available to those contemplating suicide, we can help to prevent it. Help be an advocate in the lives of those around you that all topics are safe topics. Make talking about mental health and being open to hearing about others more of a common conversation than a stigma. September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. When in doubt you can use that as your conversation starter but have the conversations. All health matters, your health matters, your life matters. Start the conversations, check in on each other and just be there. Being there shows you care!
(If you are feeling suicidal or having suicidal thoughts, please contact Northeast Kingdom Mental Health at 1-800-696-4979 (Derby area) 1-800-649-0118 (St. Johnsbury) or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255).
Director of The Wellness Center