Suicide is a topic many people are very uncomfortable talking or hearing about and I can understand why. The very thought of suicide forces us to face the reality that for some people, there is so much pain and so little hope that dying seems to be the only way out.
In Delaware suicide is the second leading cause of death among ages 25-34 and third for young people ages 15-24. And those statistics don't really capture the depth of despair as for every one suicide death there are many more attempts (an estimated 25 attempts by youth alone.*).
Following a rash of suicide deaths among high school students two years ago, a new Delaware law went into effect this month requiring all public school personnel to receive 90 minutes of training each year on suicide prevention and for all public schools to establish a suicide prevention committee. Also this month, Gov. Jack Markell signed into law two additional pieces of legislation focused on mental health care reform and suicide prevention.
I am optimistic about the possibilities, especially if there are expanded prevention and treatment resources in our state. Local Sen. Bethany Hall-Long, along with Sen. Patricia Blevins sponsored this most recent legislation, with Sen. Blevins perfectly describing the tragedy of suicide as, "a devastating, permanent, and preventable loss that makes victims out of entire families and communities." Anyone who has been touched by suicide knows this to be true.
During Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in September, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline encouraged everyone to recognize how we can play a part to save a life, to "Be The 1 To" ask, keep them safe, be there, help them connect and follow up.
- Ask. If you know someone is struggling emotionally, or who is in significant emotional or chronic physical pain, ask the difficult question "Do you think about killing yourself?" Tough question, yes, but worth it if it can lead to help vs. hopelessness. Being asked can itself be a relief to someone wrestling with these thoughts.
- Keep Them Safe. Explore whether he has any thoughts of a plan and if possible, remove access to whatever he has plans to use to hurt himself.
- Be There. As I wrote in a previous column, when someone is considering suicide, experiencing unbearable and seemingly unending pain, hopelessness and isolation, a response from you that conveys concern and compassion can be extremely helpful; no judgment, no lectures, no comparing. Be willing to hear the person's pain, to acknowledge it ("It sounds awful to go through every day feeling that way" or "I'm so sorry you are hurting so bad. I'm here for you.")
- Help Them Connect. Offer resources for professional support, whether a mental health counselor or a hotline. You could offer to sit with her while she talks to someone. In Delaware, call CONTACT Lifeline 1-800-262-9800 or access the live chat feature during certain times or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) which also offers a text option. For an immediate crises, contact Mobile Crisis in New Castle County at (800) 652-2929 or 911.
- Follow Up. Disclosing suicidal thoughts is a very vulnerable thing and if someone has shared this with you, please follow through by checking in on the person, sending him encouraging messages, continuing the above steps, and letting him know that he's not alone, that he is loved, that you want him to live, that there can be other ways to help with the pain. In a state of hopelessness, it is often impossible to imagine feeling differently, let alone better. You can hold hope for this person.
"You never know when a moment and a few sincere words
can have an impact on a life."
~ Zig Ziglar
Again, if you or someone you know is considering suicide or in need of any support, you can reach CONTACT Lifeline in Delaware at 1-800-262-9800 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Their websites offer information on live chat and/or text options. And please, for immediate mental health crises, contact Mobile Crisis in New Castle County at (800) 652-2929 or 911.
*Statistics source: https://afsp.org