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With the tragic death of Robin Williams, and suicide prevention week being right around the corner, suicide prevention and the effects suicide can have on families and individuals have been at the forefront for many over the last few weeks. Much has been written and analyzed over why Robin Williams took his life. Much confusion and disbelief has been voiced over how a man who provided so many laughs and Oscar worthy moments could possibly be so depressed that he would take his own life. But maybe the clearest concept that comes from this is that mental illness, whether severe depression or something else, is an indiscriminate disease. It can, and will, impact people from all walks of life, all levels of success, and even those who are loved by many. It’s a terrible disease that unfortunately many choose to suffer through alone, until they simply cannot handle it anymore.
According to sprc.org, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among Americans. However, suicide attempts have an even larger impact. Here are some facts to keep in mind from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC):
• More than 38,000 people die by suicide each year
• There are an estimated 12 attempted suicides for every one suicide death
• The estimated number of people hospitalized for self-inflicted injuries increased from 155,000 in 2009 to 224,000 in 2011
• Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among 25-34 year olds and the 3rd leading cause of death among 15-24 year olds
• Suicide among 45-54 year olds is a growing problem; the rate of suicide is higher in this age group than in any other
• Men die by suicide four times as often as women and represent 78.8% of all US suicides
• Women attempt suicide two to three times as often as men
These are staggering statistics. They clearly illustrate the severity of the problem, but what can be done?
One concept that is quite easy to follow through on, that any of us can do, is an idea shared by Bryan Medical Center, Nebraska State Suicide Prevention Coalition, and others over the last few years. It is simply, Ask A Question, Save A Life. Each of us has the potential to save the life of someone who is contemplating suicide by simply asking whether they are thinking of suicide and providing them an outlet to safely, and without judgment, talk about their feelings and what they are going through. Talking about suicide is not going to plant the idea in someone’s mind, which is a common misconception. Each of us can serve as an advocate by watching for warning signs and risk factors of a loved one, student, co-worker, friend, or anyone you may come in contact with on a normal basis. These might include:
• Prior suicide attempts
• Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself
• Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
• Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
• Talking about being a burden to others
• Withdrawing or feeling isolated
• Displaying extreme mood swings
• Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
This is not an exclusive list, but it gives you an idea of things you could watch for if you’re worried for someone. There are tremendous resources out there to provide further information on suicide prevention. Please visit www.sprc.org, www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org, or http://www.suicideprevention.nebraska.edu/, for additional information. Or if you or a loved one is thinking of suicide please call 911 or 800.273.TALK (8255).
Another way to help prevent suicide is by getting involved and advocating for change in your communities. An opportunity is approaching to do this right here in Nebraska. On Tuesday, September 2nd at 11:00 am at the Capitol, Governor Heineman will be signing a proclamation designating the following week as Suicide Prevention Week in Nebraska. This is just a small way that we can bring awareness to this very crucial topic.
Unfortunately as we have been made aware in recent weeks, sometimes suicides are completed and families and loved ones are left wondering why this happened, how are they going to get through this, and possibly what could they have done differently? This is an unbearable grief to process through and often requires the support and compassion of others to do so successfully. Here in Nebraska we have what are called LOSS (Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors) Teams in the Lincoln, Kearney, and Norfolk areas. These teams are composed of survivors of suicide who go out and help the loved ones who have recently lost someone by suicide through the grieving process. It is my opinion that each community should have access to these teams, and provide resources to ensure they are created. They are a comforting asset to survivors at a time when comfort is difficult to find, and can play a crucial role in ensuring a repeat suicide doesn’t happen in these families. At the most recent LOSS Advisory Meeting, some of us Omaha folks were thinking it was high time we got one started here in our community! If you’re interested in being a part of this, please reach out and we can connect you to the necessary individuals.
We know that suicide is a true public health problem in our communities, and we know that we can each play a role in preventing suicide. Each of us really can make a difference. While I have spent my life laughing at Robin Williams movies, and shedding a few tears in some – my favorite still being Good Will Hunting, which sits in my living room as a VHS tape to this day – I hope his legacy ends up being bigger than a few laughs and stage performances. His death is tragic, there is no doubt about that, but hopefully his death will allow for others to open up, will allow for more awareness to be built around this tragic topic, and most importantly, I hope that this awareness and media attention that came after his death, will not die out with the next news cycle. Suicide Prevention needs to remain a topic of conversation. In these coming weeks through National Suicide Prevention Week, and always. And each of us needs to remember the important role we can play with a few simple words . . . Ask a Question, Save A Life.
About Julia Hebenstreit, Executive Director of The Kim Foundation
Julia received her J.D. from Creighton University in 2005, and her BS in Journalism from the University of Nebraska Omaha in 2002. She has been with The Kim Foundation for two and a half years, and prior to that worked for local non-profits doing development, strategic planning, communications and advancement. She has a passion for helping people and improving lives, and serves as an active member of the Nebraska Suicide Prevention Coalition, Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organizations, the Early Childhood Mental Health Coalition and the Adolescent Mental Health Coalition. She also serves on the Women’s Fund Circles Board.