TW: This post discusses suicide and suicide prevention.
In looking at what I wrote last year during Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, I found a lot of useful information in my posts. But as it often happens, I’ve learned a few things in the past year that have helped form new opinions and improve the way I view different aspects of mental health and wellness. And while it’s always useful to share resources and information (such as this post of mine from last year which does just that), I thought I’d share another insight into suicide prevention that isn’t discussed as often.
As I usually do when I write about suicide prevention and these related topics, I want to stress that unless I include a link to other research, what I write here is based off my own lived experience with mental illness.
When people talk about suicide prevention, a pretty familiar set of action items comes to mind. People post the numbers of helplines and lifelines, they share statistics about mental illness and suicide/suicide prevention and they provide encouraging messages for those struggling.
Let me be clear: these are all very good things, and they are all effective ways of suicide prevention. However, they can also limit the way that we talk about suicide prevention. These should be seen as some of the many actions we can take toward suicide prevention – but they certainly aren’t the only action items we take. Suicide prevention is about supporting people and checking in on the ones we know and love, but it can look like so much more than that.
Per the CDC, suicide prevention is defined as “strategies based on the best available evidence to help communities and states prevent suicide.” Suicide prevention is important on an individual basis, but it’s equally important from a community aspect as well. We’d never think there are only a few strategies to solve problems in our community, so why would we use that approach toward suicide prevention?
Suicide prevention does look like providing information, resources and a lending ear to people who need it – but it also looks like helping people find housing, since people who experience homelessness have a suicide rate 9x as high as the U.S. general population. It means providing easier access to mental healthcare for the millions of people experiencing mental illness who don’t get the care they deserve.
It also means calling attention to the higher suicide rates among marginalized groups and communities, and acknowledging that some people are more at-risk for suicidal thoughts and ideation than others (and naming the reasons why).
It means coming to terms with the fact that in 2019, the male suicide rate was 3.5x that of women, even though men have historically had the lowest treatment numbers. It means understanding that people who at the most risk are often in need of the most help. It means that calling attention to the fact that the suicide rate in the U.S. has grown by 33 percent between 1999-2019, and something needs to change.
By acknowledging the complexities and nuances of suicide prevention, we’re calling attention to the fact that this isn’t as issue that will go away just because we say it’s a problem. The more we link suicide prevention to other areas of life, the more we can call attention to community-minded and intentional solutions to suicide prevention, rather than the individual approach many seem to have adopted. We all have a role to play – even if it looks different than talking with a friend or sharing a phone number, it’s just as important when it comes to suicide prevention.