September is national suicide prevention month. While Seattle is not among the country’s top cities for suicide, we are 6th in the nation for depression. Couple depression with prolonged stress factors such as harassment, bullying, relationship problems or unemployment, and a person can venture into unsteady emotional ground.
Because the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) has done a great job getting their message out this month, I’ve learned that:
- Suicide now accounts for more deaths than car accidents each year in the U.S.
- Suicide is ranked as the 10th leading cause of death overall, but ranked as the second leading cause among young people, aged 15-24.
- What we know from research is that 90% of people who die by suicide have a potentially treatable mental disorder at the time of their death—a disorder that often has gone unrecognized and untreated.
- A suicide attempt is made every minute of every day, resulting in nearly one million attempts made annually.
But the reality of suicide is so much more than statistics. Suicide is personal. It’s the loss of people that we love. Many years ago I had an extended family member commit suicide and I remember the shockwave it sent through my family.
This past year I reconnected with one of my dearest friends from high school, Stacie.
Nine years ago Stacie lost her brother to suicide. It is a pain she carries with her daily. To honor and remember her brother, and to champion prevention, a few months ago Stacie participated in an AFSP Out of the Darkness Walk in Boston, a fundraising walk that stretches overnight and into the morning, watching the sunrise as a symbol of hope.
This is her powerful story:
What a challenging night! I’m from Seattle and am used to rain, but the winds picked up hard from about midnight on. It poured. My umbrella turned inside out numerous times before it finally snapped in two. It flew inside out into a fellow walker and stuck to her like a jelly fish!
It was relentless. The rain kept beating down on us, harder and harder. Our garbage bags rippling in the wind made it hard to walk. I cried. I wanted it to stop. But it wouldn’t. It got worse. I was upset that we wouldn’t see a sunrise – that symbol of hope in the morning.
I cried for my brother and how life situations just kept beating down on him until he couldn’t take it anymore despite how hard he tried. It was a downer of a night. My feet and knees hurt. And then I got to the finish line…
I was welcomed by cheers for making it. I saw the luminaries and cried some more. I saw the words HOPE spelled out in candles. I looked at the mass of people there and found my teammates. I was not alone.
We’re in this together. We walk for this cause to let you know that. I walked with walkers who struggle with depression and I admire them. I reminded myself the sun IS still there even though days are dark and miserable and hope seems lost.
I salute ANY of you who struggle with depression. Don’t give up. You are not alone. You are strong! Keep walking in this life one step at a time. There is hope.
As we seek to become better neighbors to one another, we can build a stronger community of support for one another. We will, eventually, get to know someone who may be struggling with depression, or whose family is impacted by mental illness, depression, or suicide.
What can we do? Citing from information from the AFSP website, we can:
- Practice being an active listener. Most people with thoughts of suicide invite help to stay safe.
- Learn to be available. Stacie shared with me a story about taking the time to listen to a distraught neighbor. They were able to contact the neighbor’s boyfriend and ensure they had the support they needed.
- Listen and watch for warning signs such as:
- Talking about wanting to die
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Sleeping too little or too much or withdrawing or feeling isolated
- And, if you have someone in your life who is exhibiting these warning signs, stand in the gap for them and:
- Do not leave the person alone
- Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt
- Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255)
- Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional
Finally, we can consider participating in the upcoming Seattle Community Walk October 25. The Seattle event is a morning/day event, not an overnight. When you walk in an Out of the Darkness Walk, you join the effort with hundreds of thousands of people to raise awareness and funds that allow AFSP to invest in new research, create educational programs, advocate for public policy, and support survivors of suicide loss.
Thank you for sharing your story with me Stacie. Good neighboring – both up and down our sidewalks and through partnering with larger community events like the Seattle Community Walk– can bring a sunrise of hope to all of us.