From the Jackson Hole News & Guide Column Sound Mind
Suicide is always a difficult topic to talk about, but the fact remains that the numbers have been on the rise nationally and globally. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rates have increased by more than 30% in the U.S. since 1999.
Suicides, usually fueled by underlying mental illness, are especially worrisome for the groups that are seeing the largest increases: adolescents and college students, veterans and older adults. Nearly 45,000 Americans die by suicide every year, making it the 10th leading cause of death in the nation — second for those 15 to 24 years old.
Wyoming and other Western states tend to have numbers even higher than the national average. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in Wyoming for people ages 10 to 34, the CDC says. The suicide rate in Wyoming tends to be one of the highest in the U.S., usually within the top three with Montana and Alaska. The statistics are heartbreaking for those lives lost but also for all the people left behind.
What can you do? There are several options for free training that can help members of the community recognize and respond to someone who is struggling. The Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center’s Mental Health First Aid program, an eight-hour course, is one. Another is Safe Talk, a three-hour program focused on suicide prevention. Those programs give community members the skills to recognize the signs of suicide, ask questions and provide resources for intervention.
Rural areas present more difficulties in talking about suicide. Small towns mean that most people are connected and know someone affected by the issue. Many of us may be reluctant to say anything for fear of making matters worse or making someone uncomfortable. So how can we go about discussing the issue respectfully and responsibly?
Media coverage and social media, if not used responsibly, can cause harm. But they can also be effective tools to correct myths or misperceptions and encourage people at risk to seek help as well as communicate facts and resources. Speaking out is critical to prevention but should always be done carefully and in a way that is respectful to people who have experienced a loss to suicide.
Education is one of the most important resources for communities in preventing suicide and eliminating the stigma surrounding mental illnesses. Articles about suicide can educate readers about risk factors, warning signs and local resources for intervention. In addition, there is much more to understand about why people choose suicide as an option.
Many families and friends who have lost a loved one to suicide may blame themselves or feel judged by others. Education can provide interventions and understanding while minimizing risk, but also be respectful to the people who are affected by suicide. Those talking about suicide should be sensitive to tone, content and language. Responsible discussion should avoid judgment — intentional or implied — when reporting the full story and should always include education about suicide prevention.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has a few recommendations for sharing a personal story in public or in the media. The guide encourages including referral numbers and information about warning signs. Providing information on local prevention efforts and activities can have positive effects.
Without a doubt, discussions about suicide should be happening throughout our community. At the same time there should be a focused approach to overall community-based mental health care to address the underlying mental illness issues.