Times Chronicle & Public Spirit
Suicide prevention represents urgent call for advocacy
The tragedy of suicide is difficult to grasp and troubling to discuss.
Almost 46,000 Americans took their own lives in 2020, according to the Jason Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting the “silent epidemic” of youth and young adult suicide through educational programs.
Suicide rates in the US have climbed 33% since 2000, spurring discussions and analysis of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health. Advocacy groups have been sounding alarms, urging more awareness and intervention in the face of the health, economic and education effects of the pandemic that have added risks, including suicide.
Most concerning is that suicide and suicide attempts among children, adolescents and young adults between the ages of 10 and 24 are rising, in some analyses by dramatic numbers.
More than one in three high school students (37.1%) experienced poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, 44.2% of students experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, almost 20% seriously considered suicide, and 9.0% attempted suicide during a 12-month period surveyed.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 24, surpassed by car accidents, according to the CDC. But in the total population, more people including middle aged and elderly die by their own hand than those killed in car accidents.
Those are the sobering numbers in what is a growing epidemic of mental health crises. Behind the statistics is the heartbreak of the friends and family of suicide victims, asking what they could have done, were there warning signs missed, could they have saved their loved one.
“Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in our nation, but the lack of awareness regarding the issue contributes to its magnitude,” said Brett Marciel, of The Jason Foundation. “Suicide is preventable, and you can have a lasting impact on those around you.”
Suicide Prevention Month is a time to remember those affected by suicide, raise awareness, and focus on prevention efforts. One of the ways to reduce the numbers is by talking about suicide and suicidal ideation, which can spur meaningful conversations about mental health and potentially save lives.
According to The New York Times, which has done a comprehensive look at adolescent mental health, there are steps parents and friends can take to prevent teen suicide:
• Recognize the signs. Look for changes in a youth’s behavior, such as disinterest in eating or altered sleep patterns. A teen in distress may express excessive worry, hopelessness or profound sadness.
• Approach with sensitivity. If you are seeking to start a discussion with a teen who might be struggling, be clear and direct. Don’t shy from hard questions, but also approach the issue with compassion and not blame.
• Get the correct diagnosis and carefully consider medications. Find the right doctor for your child by asking for recommendations and make sure you understand the side effects of medications and interactions with other treatments, as well as how to tell if a medication is working and how hard it is to wean off of it.
• Don’t forget the basics. Young people, with developing brains, need eight to 10 hours of sleep to promote mental and physical health. Lack of sleep can interfere with development, and can dramatically impact mood. Physical activity is also vital.
Suicide Prevention Month is a time to be aware and advocate for suicide prevention. Join the conversation and reach out to those who have been personally affected by suicide, raise awareness, and connect those struggling with suicidal thoughts to professional counselors and treatment services that can help them.
Mental heath issues are not cause for shame. They are cause for concern that requires action and help from all of us, particularly in these confusing times coming out of a pandemic. Suicide prevention goes beyond one family and one tragic ending. Advocacy and action is for all of us to embrace and prevent this heartbreak in our communities.
A three-digit 988 Suicide & Crisis hotline was recently established nationwide to connect people in crisis with help. People experiencing a mental health crisis in the U.S. can get help by calling or texting 988. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s 10-digit number — 1-800-273-8255 — will remain active, but calls will be routed to 988.