“September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month — a time to raise awareness of this stigmatized, and often taboo, topic. We use this month to shift public perception, spread hope and share vital information to people affected by suicide. Our goal is ensuring that individuals, friends, and families have access to the resources they need to discuss suicide prevention and to seek help.” — nami.org
Talking about mental health, suicide, or our struggles is a tough road to go, but together we can make a difference. Suicide prevention and discussion can look different for all of us! Sharing and talking about suicide prevention week helps spread awareness, creates open dialogue and a safe space for those who are struggling, helps others to be able to identify someone close to them who is struggling, and destigmatizes learning about mental illnesses.
Growing up, I’d hear a country song every once in a while about suicide and I have a very vivid memory of my dad saying (to my mom) that we needed to change the song; we shouldn’t talk about or listen to songs that talk about that. Was it because he thought it would give us ideas? Was it because he didn’t want us to know that was something that could happen to people? Was it because it was just sad and he wanted us to be happy? I don’t really know. I have never asked him, but I know with certainty that he isn’t (or perhaps, wasn’t) the only person who felt as if the topic should be avoided altogether.
Suicide Prevention Awareness Month is about changing that narrative. How can we make an impact during Suicide Prevention Awareness Month? Know this first: no one is exempt. This applies to our youth and teens, too!
Talk about it, share statistics about it, and post the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and local hotlines. Becoming an ally to those who are experiencing suicidal thoughts or self-harm is the first step. It’s as simple as choosing for it to not be a taboo subject for you.
Talking about suicide is scary. The reality of it is scary, and no one wants to imagine it. The likelihood that you love someone who has considered suicide is high and it is our job as parents to be prepared to have conversations about all of the hard topics when the time comes. Not talking about suicide gives the impression that it is shameful, wrong, or unimportant. If someone feels that they are shameful, wrong, or unimportant, they are certainly not going to talk about or reach out when they need help the most.
Know Some Facts
According to nami.org, “Suicidal thoughts are common among teens and young adults. In fact, about 11% of young adults (ages 18-25) report that they’ve had serious thoughts about suicide, and about 1–2% report a suicide attempt during the prior year. These numbers are higher among high school students — nearly 20% report serious thoughts about suicide and 9% report a suicide attempt.”
Here’s are a few things to know to support young people who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts:
- Black Americans, Indigenous people, and youth in the LGBTQ+ communities are at higher risk due to generational trauma, poverty and stigma, among other factors.
- Look for risks and signs and do not ignore them:
- Talking, joking, or posting online about dying or life not being worth living.
- Feelings of hopelessness, shame, or of being a burden to others.
- Extreme sadness, anger, or irritability; withdrawing from friends and family.
- Loss of interest in usual activities and hobbies.
Strategies To Help Someone With Suicidal Thoughts
- Be a safe place; do NOT immediately freak out. Remain calm and allow them space for their feelings.
- Validate how they are feeling. Just because you don’t “get it,” doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Destigmatizing mental health is recognizing that having these thoughts doesn’t make someone bad and it’s okay to talk about them.
- Be an active listener. Allow them to process their feelings with you if they initiate and respond with questions to show interest in processing with them. If they aren’t opening up, provide a distraction from the thoughts with something fun and create a calming space.
- Don’t make it about you. Yes, you would be sad. Yes, so would others. Piling guilt on someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts and feelings of hopelessness only makes the burden worse.
Help Debunk Myths About Suicide
- It is not attention-seeking; it is a cry for help.
- There are warning signs, but we have to be educated on what to look for. It is our responsibility to our loved ones to learn as much as we can.
- The myth that most people won’t go through with their thoughts. Is that a risk you really want to take?
- People considering suicide don’t just want to die; they feel as if they have no other options. Show them there are options and provide resources.
- Talking about suicide is bad because it gives people the idea to do it. Wrong, it makes them feel shame for considering it, and not talking about it makes it feel like they are bad.
Lastly, be kind, teach kindness, and choose kindness even when it’s hard. You never know what someone else is experiencing or what impact, big or small, you could have on them.
Thankfully, society is getting better at recognizing mental health issues, illnesses, and advocacy. The internet is a wealth of knowledge on how you can spread awareness, stop the stigma, and save lives.
Here are a few of my favorite resources to help open up conversations about mental health wellness and advocacy:
I hope that as part of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, you’ll start a conversation today, and help break the stigma for those who are struggling.