September means different things to different people: the end of summer, the first weeks of school, pool closings, or apple picking. But for millions of people, September is one of many intense times of remembrance for loved ones who have died by suicide because it is during this month that organizations and people across the country recognize Suicide Prevention Awareness Week. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, there are approximately 1 million attempted suicides each year in our country with over 40,000 people dying by suicide annually. Each of those people have family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors who are impacted, leaving many reeling in shock, regret, remorse, confusion and profound grief.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention breaks down warning signs into 3 areas:
If a person TALKS about:
Having no reason to live
Being a burden to others
If a person’s BEHAVIOR changes or increases by:
Withdrawing from activities, family and friends
Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online for materials or means
Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
Giving away possessions
Increased use of alcohol or drugs
If a person expresses or EXPERIENCES the following:
As you might imagine from the list above, when someone is thinking about suicide, experiencing unbearable and seemingly unending pain, hopelessness and isolation, responses from others that convey concern and compassion are the best approaches; no judgment, no lectures, no comparing. Our inherent human will to live is almost always still there, however small, however quiet. Be willing to hear the person’s pain, to acknowledge it (“It sounds awful to go through every day feeling that way”). Offer your own support and also opportunities for professional support whether a mental health counselor or a hotline. You can offer to sit with her while she talks to someone. In a state of hopelessness, it is often impossible to imagine feeling differently, let alone better. You can hold hope for this person.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” ~ Ian MacLaren
Since so many of us “connected” on social media these days, it’s important to know that earlier this year, Facebook worked with several mental health and suicide prevention organizations to add resources, tools, and support to people who are identified as possibly struggling with suicidal thoughts, as well as their concerned friends and family members. While Facebook asks users to contact local emergency services immediately if they see a direct threat on Facebook, other concerning content can be reported for a personal response to the person in distress. While no system is perfect, Facebook has created a supportive series of responses which include encouraging them to connect with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, reaching out to a friend, and providing coping strategies. Similar resources are also available for the person who flagged the troubling post.
Lastly, another way that social media is playing a part in spreading awareness and hope is through Project Semicolon, an inspiring, far-reaching effort that began by a woman honoring her father who died by suicide with a semicolon tattoo. The semicolon is “used when an author could've chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you, and the sentence is your life”, explains Amy Bleuel, founder. “Your story isn’t over yet”. With a focus on hope and love, the project envisions lower suicide rates, starting conversations about suicide, mental illness and addiction and the related struggles. Through the image of the semi-colon, this project is giving a powerful voice to survivors of suicide and those who struggle to stay alive.
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). Both lifelines have online chat options at certain times. For an imminent mental health crisis, I encourage you to call Mobile Crisis in New Castle County at (302) 577-2484 or 911.
For more information on Project Semicolon and the powerfully hopeful images represented, visit http://www.projectsemicolon.org.
“HOPE: Hold On Pain Ends”