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We All Play a Part in Preventing Suicide

Last updated: September 9, 2021

Suicide. 

Many of us have a hard time even saying the word, much less engaging in the all-important conversation about its prevention. But as the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., chances are high that we’ve experienced the impact of the heartbreaking and devastating outcome of suicide.  

Despite a wealth of evidence-based approaches to reducing suicide risk and completion, the stigma surrounding this topic remains. We’re all navigating an unprecedented and uncertain time in our world’s history. It’s more important than ever for all of us to speak candidly about mental health, normalize preventive behavioral health practices, and advocate for increased access to support and treatment.  

Understanding the Risk 

The rate of suicide continues to trend upward in the United States. In 2018, suicide rates reached an all-time high before decreasing slightly to 13.9 per 100,000 people in 2019.  

While suicide affects every demographic, men complete suicide at approximately two times the rate of women. It is the eighth-leading cause of death for people aged 55 through 64. It’s also impacting young people at an alarming rate as the second-leading cause of death for people ages 10 through 34.  

But age isn’t the only risk factor. People who exhibit suicidal thoughts often have more contributing to poor mental health than age alone. This can include a a history of depression, panic attacks, anxiety, job or relationship problems, substance use struggles, grief, and any other number of life-altering challenges. 

“COVID-19 is an additional stress that is impacting the levels of suicidal ideation,” says Christine Hornung, a Licensed Professional Counselor with ThedaCare Behavioral Health. “The isolation and hopelessness that have accompanied this pandemic are having immediate and long-lasting effects on mental health that can’t be ignored. Without taking steps to prevent suicide, the rate and risk will continue to increase.”  

Focusing on Prevention 

Despite the difficulty many of us have discussing this prevalent public health issue, speaking openly about suicidal thoughts can be one of the best ways to decrease suicide risk.  

“I use the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS) to assess a patient’s suicide risk and begin with a straightforward question,” Hornung says. “I ask them, ‘Have you wished you were dead or wished you could go to sleep and not wake up?’ The truth is, approaching the conversation in a direct way allows the patient to more easily come to terms with their thoughts. It sets the tone that this is a safe, supportive space for talking openly about the challenges they are facing. From there, we can develop a safety plan to help the patient cope with the support of their family and community members.” 

collaborating to help

In conjunction with licensed professionals like Hornung who interact directly with suicidal patients, organizations such as the Northeast Wisconsin Mental Health Connection help create a mentally well, stigma-free community. They provide connection to mental health service providers, foster dialogue about mental health, and encourage collaboration of community stakeholders in addressing social and emotional wellness throughout our communities. 

The Connection came about in response to the LIFE Study, a ThedaCare Plunge, and the Mental Health Summit in 2011. During the last 10 years of operation, The Connection has supported several initiatives and campaigns to prevent suicide in the Fox Valley. This includes Zero Suicide, a Henry Ford Behavioral Health program that’s supported through the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention. It aims to prevent suicide among people in the care of behavioral health and other health care providers. Project Zero, specifically, was developed to address local adult suicide prevention. 

Reaching out to Men

“Together with Zero Suicide, Project Zero launched an awareness campaign targeting middle-aged men, called Strong Minds 4 Men,” says Beth Clay, Executive Director of N.E.W. Mental Health Connection. “We targeted this demographic because it has the highest rate of suicide in the Tri-County area and across the nation. We want men to understand that mental health disorders are not a sign of weakness, and there is free, anonymous, and convenient help available to them.” 

Despite the program’s success, Clay admits efforts like these are costly. That’s why community support is integral to The Connection’s ability to keep going.  

“The Connection has secured over $2 million in grant funding over the last five years to support local suicide prevention work for youth and adults,” Clay says. “These funds employ our project coordinators, evaluators, and researchers. They keep us in the driver’s seat of this critical undertaking. Without funding and support, our coalition and its members wouldn’t be able to strategize and implement this life-saving work.”  

Reducing the Stigma 

Preventing suicide isn’t as simple as increasing access to community resources. Even more importantly, we must eliminate the stigma around mental health. By allowing people to feel less inhibited about taking charge of their mental health, they will be more likely to express their struggles with depression. They can then work through the challenges contributing to their suicidal thoughts.  

“Seeing more celebrities and people of note share their mental health journeys is so empowering,” Hornung says. “The visibility they bring to the issue of mental health through their vulnerability and willingness to share is very powerful. For those who consider these people role models, it could be just the encouragement they need to seek help.”  

It’s equally important to introduce the topic of mental health to children at a young age, emphasize the importance of seeking help, and provide kids the necessary coping skills.  

“We have to focus on normalizing mental health screening as part of regular patient care and increasing help-seeking behavior among the highest risk groups,” Clay says. “With the partnership of health care providers, we can help patients of every age understand that good health is physical and mental. You can’t heal the whole person without treating each part.”   

Getting Help 

Whether you’re personally experiencing suicidal thoughts or suspect that a loved one is, a variety of resources are available. ThedaCare Behavioral Health provides walk-in care. Anyone with a mental health need can receive care, no appointment needed.

You can also call 988, the National Suicide and Crisis Hotline. If you or someone you know needs immediate emergency intervention, always call 911. EMTs can transport people to a facility for evaluation and monitoring until they are stable.  

“The last question I ask during a diagnosis discussion is no coincidence,” Hornung says. “I implore my patients to call out the one thing that is most important to them and worth living for. There is always someone or something that comes to mind. This moment of discovery is paramount in motivating a person’s road to recovery. It’s a direct result of them feeling empowered to have the conversation. We have to begin normalizing these conversations — each and every one of us.” 

Don’t struggle with suicidal thoughts in silence. Our behavioral health specialists are here to help. 

Tags: behavioral health emergency help Mental Health stigma suicide awareness suicide prevention

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