Content Warning: This piece contains mentions of suicide.
Whenever someone famous dies by suicide, I see my social media feeds fill with the numbers for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) and the Crisis Text Line (741741), and while that information is incredibly important to share, I am always left with a feeling that we could be doing more to prevent suicide in the first place. What frustrates me the most about this response is that it dies down after a day or two of the announcement of a famous person dying by suicide- as if suicide prevention is not something we should be doing every day.
To start off, I want to be clear that suicide is not anyone’s fault. It is not selfish, and it is not weak. As someone who has experienced suicidal thoughts, I know that they are not rational- they are intrusive and cruel, and sometimes impossible to tune out. According to a report released this month by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), suicide rates have risen in all states but one since 1999, with an average increase of twenty-four percent; more information about this study can be found here: https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/suicide/. Suicide is an epidemic, and there are concrete steps that we can all take in an effort to prevent it.
Another common response I see on social media after a celebrity dies by suicide is that no one saw it coming and people asking how a person could do something like that, when they had so much going for them. The thing about mental illness that a lot of people who have not dealt with it do not understand is that mental illness does not discriminate based on one’s perceived level of success, or based on anything else for that matter.
Not everyone has mental illness, but everyone has mental health.
So, what can you do above and beyond sharing the numbers for national resources like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Crisis Text Line? One very simple thing that you can do today is reach out to the people you love. It does not seem like a big deal, or seem like it could actually make a difference, but it truly does. After the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain last week, there was a twitter thread started by Ana Marie Cox (@anamariecox) that asked how someone else had kept you going, with the hashtag #livethroughthis, and what followed was a flood of tweets where people told stories of the little things done by other people (sometimes strangers) that kept them going. Something as small as sending a text to someone you love, reminding them how important they are, can make an immeasurable difference.
Once in the midst of a major depression, I was crying (I thought softly) to myself on the F train; it was crowded. Someone, as they got off, stuck a pack of tissues under my nose. That person kept me going another day. How has someone else that kept you going? #livethroughthis
— take care of yourself (@anamariecox) June 8, 2018
Something that seems helpful to post is the message saying something along the lines of “help is available, don’t be afraid to reach out” to tell people that there is no shame in asking for help. Don’t get me wrong- this is not necessarily a bad thing to tweet- reminding people that there are resources out there for help with mental illness is important. However, it is also important to consider the fact that formal mental healthcare can be expensive and inaccessible (even with insurance), and that mental illnesses like depression can stop people from reaching out for help even if they know they need it, because they do not believe people will actually want to help them.
So, in conclusion, here are a couple of things that you can do to practice suicide prevention (in addition to spreading the numbers for the Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Crisis Text Line!):
- Listen to those who have experienced suicidal thoughts and survived. Listen to what they say helped them get through the dark times in their lives- getting help does not look the same for everyone, and recovery is not linear- different things work for different people.
- Reach out to your friends and family to check in on them! Something as simple as a text reminding people you love how important they are to you can make a significant difference in someone’s day, and takes minimal effort! If you want people in your life to see you as part of their support system, make it clear that you care about them and support them, a text or phone call is all it takes!
- If you think someone close to you is struggling, have a conversation with them about how they are doing, be there for them and let them talk! Asking open-ended questions about how someone is doing might lead to that person opening up to you, but if they seem unwilling, let them know that you are there for them if they ever do want to talk!
- Volunteer for mental health organizations in your area! For example, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is made up of local crisis centers; more information on how to get involved can be found here: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/participate/.
These are just a few suggestions of first steps you can take- by learning about suicide and ways to prevent it, and following through with even the simplest of steps, can have an amazing impact on the people around you. For even more information about steps you can take to engage in suicide prevention, visit #BeThe1To at http://www.bethe1to.com/, to learn more.