Suicide walk

Participants in New Castle’s September 2018 Out of the Darkness Walk head through the downtown to raise suicide awareness.

Most people do not broach the sensitive subject in an open setting. Rather, friends, family members and acquaintances address the portentous question aside from the public domain in a corner room or far from wandering ears.

Many people consider talking about a sudden, unexpected death and equating it to suicide as taboo.

Should this delicate discussion be off limits?

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Awareness and prevention are more than recognizing warning signs and which phone number to call for help. We need to talk about it. We need to say the word: Suicide.

Loudly.

Even while writing this article, I was dictating my thoughts to my cell phone and the phone consistently changed suicide to inside. Our technology is even having a difficult time discussing an incomprehensible topic. A topic that does not even need to be difficult. A topic we should not keep on the inside.

If a person shares that they are having suicidal ideation, they are opening a wound. A wound to their past, their trauma, and their current feelings of despair. In this moment, they are at their most vulnerable. If responded with a whisper, people will stop sharing. Why do we share that we have a headache, yet are afraid to share if we are feeling depressed or experiencing something far more serious?

I remember being a relatively new therapist and asking a client if they were having suicidal thoughts. My colleague at the time looked at me and said, “Please do not ask that. That will give them ideas.”

I paused for a moment. It was quite the opposite. I recognized that talking about it and allowing myself to be a safe person to talk to was the most important thing that person needed – now more than ever. Maybe even more important than a phone number. If we do not normalize the conversation, we cannot help those who need the support. If we hide the word suicide, we will never gain full awareness of how to prevent it.

In the United States, about 123 people die by suicide each day. Overall, it is the 10th leading cause of death in our country, but second for people ages 25-34 and third for the 15-24-year-old age bracket, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

While it is incredibly important to recognize the signs of suicidal ideation, we must also validate those who are experiencing these feelings. Validating their existence and their feelings allows them to be self-aware and comfortable in opening up and seeking help. We must recognize our own contributions towards perpetuating the stigma. The whispers or fear of talking about it only furthers the divide between awareness, treatment and prevention.

It is incredibly difficult to talk about, because it truly is a matter of life and safety. It does not have to be difficult. There are resources available for anyone struggling with thoughts of suicide or those who are a support to someone who is struggling. We can learn to have the conversation together so that we can take the next step in preventing suicide.

PA 211 NE / Help Line is available by dialing 211 or by texting your zip code to 898-211 for information and referrals to emergency human services, including a mental health crisis. PA 211 NE’s highly trained and experienced caseworkers perform telephone crisis services until the caller is out of crisis, has been accepted into care by a mobile crisis worker, or there is a warm handoff to a mental health provider.

It is time we open the door and let the public’s light shine brightly on the sensitive subject of suicide. Together, as a society, we can encourage dialogue, group discussions, counseling, and more, as we seek solutions for mental health crises. What better time to start than during National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in September?

Jessica Ives, MSW, LSW, is the director of Case Management and Community Programs at Family Service Association of Northeastern Pennsylvania in Wilkes-Barre.

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