In Virginia, on average, three people die by suicide each day according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
When I think about this, I think about the three more families every day who will learn to live without a beloved daughter, son, brother, sister, mom or dad. I think about family, friends and co-workers who are left to mourn someone gone too soon and to wonder if they might have said or done something to help this person stay alive.
Since moving to Norfolk seven years ago, I have met dozens of families who have lost someone to death by suicide. My daughter, Sarah, died by suicide in 2014. These events compel me to speak out about suicide prevention.
As a community, we can take action against this leading cause of death by breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health, by educating everyone about suicide prevention, and by ensuring that everyone who needs care for their mental health has access to that care.
When we stop stigma, we encourage people to better understand mental health. We also encourage help seeking behavior in those who need it. Many people at risk for suicide do not seek help for depression and other treatable mental conditions because of the stigma that surrounds mental illness. Mental health is part of overall health. Our open discussion and caring, empathetic attitude toward mental illness can help to stop the stigma. That open discussion can also push forward the growing movement that seeks to guarantee access to mental health care for all who need it.
Through education and community programs that are based on sound research and best practices, we can create a culture that’s smart about mental health. We can educate community members to recognize and initially assist someone at risk for suicide in the same way that we are educated to assist someone as a first responder using CPR. We can get someone through their crisis until the professionals can take over. In as little as one hour, a program such as Talk Saves Lives, developed by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, teaches how to have caring conversations about mental health, shows how to recognize the risks and warning signs of suicide, and encourages help seeking for those who may need it.
With a bit more training, one can learn to recognize the signs of depression and other mental health distress, learn how to initiate a safe conversation to assist someone, and learn how to keep someone safe while getting appropriate help. In the eight hour Mental Health First Aid class, an action plan is developed to help someone who is suffering from a mental health crisis. Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) is a two-day interactive workshop in suicide first aid. These trainings and others are offered by The Sarah Michelle Peterson Foundation and the Norfolk Community Services Board, as well as other organizations.
Communities can also fight suicide by supporting the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. 2017 is the thirteenth year of Out of the Darkness Walks in Hampton Roads, and Norfolk has its first Out of the Darkness Walk downtown this Saturday beginning at 10:00 at the MacArthur Green. When you raise funds for AFSP, you help bring suicide prevention education, outreach, and healing support to our community.
We need everyone to join the fight against suicide. Engaging families, community and local business leaders, health care providers, professional associations, churches and synagogues, school and university leaders, students, parents, foundations, corporations, and others to strive toward the goal of educating everyone will provide a real opportunity to reach that goal. Contribute to a suicide-safer community by bringing training to your staff, board, parent group, youth group, class, and yourself. Working together, we can empower citizens to understand mental health and to prevent suicide.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK
Text “hello” to 741-741
The Sarah Michelle Peterson Foundation offers FREE suicide prevention programs. For more info, go here: Sarahmpetersonfoundation.org.
For more on Mentally Healthy Norfolk Month, please go here.
And please take a few moments with the Talk About it Norfolk video series.