Remember this date — Dec. 31, 2016. That was the culmination of a year that saw more people in the U.S. kill themselves than ever before — almost 45,000.
2017 saw another record and a big jump where 825 Oregonians kill themselves, 43 more than ever before and in Curry County, 14 people killed themselves, the most ever and 3 more than in 2016.
Sources for all of this information can be found at https://bit.ly/2vYBdmY.
The Curry County Commission and Del Norte County Board of Supervisors, all four city councils and all four school districts have declared, by proclamation, September as Suicide Prevention and Awareness month and they encourage all physical and behavioral health care professionals, first responders, law enforcement, educators, veterans groups, tribal communities, legislators and government agencies, the faith based community, and the media to be an important part of the puzzle to achieve Zero Attempts. However, the front-line of defense are family and friends and that’s you.
Suicide prevention begins before an actual suicide crisis. Suicide prevention strategies must address not only in the days and weeks around a crisis, but in the months or even years before a crisis occurs. Upstream strategies support wellness and resiliency and help prevent a suicide crisis from developing in the first place.
Anyone can be at risk of suicide. The path to suicide is complex and predicting it is not as easy as looking for a simple cause and effect. Losing a job, being bullied, having served in the military, or having a mental health diagnosis are not causes of suicide. Resting on these assumptions can lead to missed opportunities to recognize pain and reach out to help. Early identification and intervention can be a life saver.
Talking directly about suicide can help someone in distress. Even when we know that asking someone about suicide will not cause them to consider suicide, it can be difficult to raise the topic. Start with the simple question R U OK? If you don’t ask, you may be gambling that no one else will ask before it’s too late because they may also be afraid.
The acute risk for suicide is often time-limited. If you can help the person survive the immediate crisis and overcome the strong intent to kill themselves, you have gone a long way toward providing a positive outcome.
What else can individuals do? Recognize mental health as a medical condition that can be treated like we do physical illness. If you saw someone grimacing in pain, or passing out or choking you would ask them if there is something wrong, or ask if you can help. But we don’t do this when we see someone who is emotionally distressed, anxious, agitated, acting strangely or withdrawing from family and friends. But that’s what we need to do. We need to be involved, show our concern, don’t be afraid to ask, and make it your business. What’s the worst that can happen? They say “Mind your own business” or “I’m fine, thank-you.”
But the best that can happen is that you may be able to get somebody help and alleviate unnecessary suffering and potential harm to themselves or others. The more you know, the more you’ll be aware of how many of your friends and possibly family members are in or close to crisis.
Find one of the 153 locations in Curry and Del Norte counties that have the Zero Attempts card holder with semicolon wallet cards. Thank the management for making the cards available and pick up a few to have handy when you notice a friend not acting normally.
Over the last few years we have distributed 20,000 semicolon buttons throughout Curry and Del Norte counties. If you still have one, wear it during September. It lets people know your story isn’t over and you’re willing to listen to theirs.
During this process, be sure to take care of yourself. Find an activity you enjoy. It can be anything that makes you feel good about yourself.
Make your own safety plan. https://bit.ly/2MRguv0 It can help guide you through difficult moments and keep you safe. Have a step-by-step plan ready for if/when you feel depressed, suicidal, or in crisis, so you can start at step one and continue through the steps until you feel safe.
If you become troubled, talk to someone. Don’t keep suicidal feelings to yourself. Lean on your support network, find a therapist or a support group or get in touch with a crisis counselor on the phone, chat line or text line. Put the 800-273-8255 lifeline phone number and the 741741 crisis text line in your cell phone.
Download the MY3 App. It lets you stay connected when you are having thoughts of suicide. The app is at http://my3app.org.
Suicide is preventable. In our eagerness to communicate a message of hope and help, some uncomfortable truths and complexities can be glossed over. Warning signs can be well hidden. Or perhaps they were not new or uncommon but things that had been happening for a long time.
Knowing the signs is a start, but not enough. Suicide can be prevented but we must recognize that the task is large and cannot fall upon the shoulders of a few, or one agency or one approach. The statement “It takes a village” has never been more appropriate than in the area of suicide. And it needs to take a multifaceted approach to not only eliminate the stigma of mental health, but make it as easy to talk about as breaking a leg or having cancer. We all have a role in suicide prevention and by working together we have a good chance to see the change we wish to see. Zero Attempts.
Gordon Clay of Brookings is a suicide prevention advocate. His organization can be reached at ZeroAttempts.org.