By Lacy Monday, LCSW
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, a good time to become better informed and empowered to combat the tenth leading — and still rising — cause of death in the United States.
In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that suicide rates climbed in almost every state from 1999 to 2016, with increases above 30 percent in 25 states. Those numbers, along with the widely reported suicide deaths of chef Anthony Bourdain and designer Kate Spade, have kept this epidemic in recent headlines. But how do we begin to effectively reduce suicide in our country?
To borrow a well-worn but no less accurate phrase, it takes a village. In the same way that “all hands on deck” were required to bring awareness and change to major present day issues like smoking hazards, seatbelt safety or HIV transmission, we must take a robust community approach to suicide prevention.
Here are three areas where increased suicide prevention awareness can lead to sustainable change.
Mental Health First Aid
People are commonly taught the life-saving basics of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or what to do when someone suffers a serious cut or concussion. But what about a crisis of the mind?
Like a traditional first aid class, Mental Health First Aid teaches participants how to identify when someone may be experiencing a mental health emergency and how to help that person. One-day classes (available through Centerstone) include discussions on recognizing symptoms of depression, anxiety, psychosis and addiction, then determining the right way to assist. It’s a training everyone should have.
Primary Health Care Checkpoints
The SAMHSA-HRSA Center for Integrated Health Solutions reports “up to 45 percent of individuals who die by suicide have visited their primary care physician within a month of their death.” By partnering with behavioral health providers to establish a systematic, checkpoint approach to suicide prevention that closes gaps in patient care, lives can be saved.
Further, suicide rates will decrease through greater community involvement. Employers can help destigmatize mental health issues through Employee Assistance Programs that link staff to available resources. School systems can more purposefully add suicide prevention education into their health curriculum. Churches and other faith-based organizations can host support groups and behavioral wellness classes through the local branches of associations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Finally, some bright news in suicide prevention awareness is that more people are recognizing their need for help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline saw a record-setting 65 percent call increase in the days immediately following the tragic news of Bourdain and Spade. Reaching out in a time of need shows strength. Help is available via Centerstone’s 24-hour crisis hotline at (800) 681-7444.
Lacy Monday, LCSW, is director of Crisis Care Services for Centerstone, the nation’s largest provider of community-based behavioral health care. She holds a Master’s degree in social work from the University of Tennessee and serves as project director for a federal suicide prevention grant.