OKEECHOBEE — September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Throughout the month, organizations all over the country campaign to educate, shift public perception, connect people to vital resources, and spread hope, all with the common goal of preventing suicide. Our Village is Okeechobee’s local organization helping to bring awareness to our community.
Suicide is often considered a taboo subject surrounded by misconceptions and myths. The truth is that suicide is an epidemic affecting thousands of people in the U.S. each year, regardless of age, gender, or background. It is a subject that may be difficult to discuss but one we cannot ignore.
Suicide is a part of the mental health crisis America is currently facing. As part of the federal government’s commitment to addressing this crisis, a new hotline number has been assigned. The new number 988 operates through what was formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and provides 24/7 access to trained crisis counselors (samhsa.gov).
To put the seriousness of the situation into perspective, there was one death by suicide every 11 minutes in 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. For children and young teens, ages 10 to 14 years old, suicide is the second leading cause of death. It is the third leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 24 and the fifth leading cause of death among people 45 to 54 years old. Suicide is the 12th leading cause of death overall in the United States (nami.org).
There are some groups that have a higher incidence of suicide. The highest rates of suicide are among American Indian/Alaskan Natives, followed by non-Hispanic whites. Veterans, people who live in rural areas, members of the LGBTQ community, and workers in specific industries, such as construction, have higher than average rates of suicide (floridahealth.gov). Even though more women than men attempt suicide each year, men are four times more likely to die by suicide(nami.org).
Forty-six percent of people who die by suicide had a diagnosed mental health condition, and as many as ninety percent had experienced symptoms of a mental health condition (nami.org). The stigma associated with mental health issues may prevent some people from seeking the help they need. Some people may feel shame or embarrassment when dealing with mental health issues. They may believe that mental health issues are a weakness, others may think that they can deal with it on their own, or some believe mental health issues are a fabrication of modern society.
The reality is that suicide is often a response to a combination of factors that leave a person feeling hopeless and alone. However, there is a silver lining; suicide is preventable. By learning the risk factors and warning signs, you may be able to get someone the help they need. Although there is no single determining cause, there are known factors that increase risk. Some risk factors to be aware of include a history of mental illness or depression, issues with substance use, certain health conditions, victimization or perpetration of violence, lack of access to health care, lack of connection to the community, and financial/ family/ work stress. A few warning signs that may signal a person is contemplating suicide include getting rid of possessions, aggressive behavior, increased consumption of drugs or alcohol, impulsive or risky behavior, paying off debts and getting affairs in order, withdrawing from friends, family, and community, or vocalizing thoughts of suicide.
While conversations about mental health and suicide are challenging, they are necessary. Through responsible, honest discussion and education, we can help remove the stigma surrounding issues in mental health, advocate for better mental health services in our community, and possibly save a life.
If you or a loved one are struggling with thoughts of suicide, mental health or substance use crisis, or any other emotional distress, dial 988 for 24/7 access to trained crisis counselors. For help finding resources locally, call Our Village at 863-447-0473.
For more information on suicide prevention, visit https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/988 or
https://nami.org/Get-Involved/Awareness-Events/Suicide-Prevention-Awareness-Month- (SPAM) or