By Danielle Debley
For those who don’t know, September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.
“With the rate of suicide increasing, having awareness is very important. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. One person commits suicide every eleven minutes in this country. It is appalling to think of the loss of life that is occurring as a result, generally, of untreated mental health issues,” says Dr. Yolanda Graham, Senior Vice President and Chief Clinical/Medical Officer of Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health.
“I think if we talk about suicide, we also have to talk about the stigma surrounding the treatment of mental illness – and increase awareness. Many people are suffering in silence, aware that something is wrong, but the idea of reaching out to a therapist or psychiatrist, and that stigma associated with that, prevents people from getting the care that they need.
“Within that vein, we see most people suffering from depression reaching out to their primary care providers; in the medical community it is then really important to make sure that those providers are trained in recognizing signs of depression and have training to be able to screen for suicidal thoughts and ideations.”
Graham, who is board certified in General Psychiatry, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and is an expert in areas such as mental health and child advocacy, notes that not only are the rates of suicide so high, but what is also extremely concerning is that the rates of suicide in very young people has been increasing exponentially in the United States.
“Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people ages 10 to 34. In this population, what we’re seeing, is that the age of children completing suicide, or thinking of suicide, is occurring at much younger ages. We are now seeing this phenomenon even in elementary and middle school,” explains Graham.
High rates of school bullying and cyber bullying, access and exposure to effective means of completing suicide on the internet, and even TV shows that sensationalize suicide all add to the growing trend of ending life at younger and younger ages.
“We have to look at this preventatively; how can we provide kids with resources to counteract some of the stress cycles in their daily lives? Recognition of children in this age group is extremely important, in terms of being aware of the signs. Suicide is a hard thing to live through as a survivor for a loved one of any age, but certainly when we see the death of a very young child taking his or her own life, I think the ramifications and emotional impact of that is devastating,” says Graham.
According to the CDC, here are some signs to be aware of when interacting with someone you may be concerned about.
Warning signs might include:
• Talking or writing about wanting to die
• Expressing hopelessness
• Withdrawing from family and friends
• Increased alcohol and drug use
• Aggressive behavior
• Extreme mood swings
• Sleeping too much or too little
• Changes in sleeping habits
National Suicide Prevention Resources
Individuals should never feel that they are alone. The following are resources that Devereux recommends:
• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1 (800) 273-TALK (8255)
• Crisis Text Line: Text “START” to 741-741
• The Trevor Project: 1 (866) 488-7386
• Trans Lifeline: (877) 565-8860
Fighting to Prevent Suicide
By Danielle Debley
March 3, 2010 was a normal day. I had just finished a long day at musical practice; our high school was putting on Fame. I came home bubbly, excited from the time spent with friends and successfully pulling off a dance number which was a huge feat for me…but I came home to a somber atmosphere and some grave news. That day changed my family and my life forever. And yet what happened, gave me something to fight for and be passionate about.
I didn’t get to know my biological father very well before he was gone. I was able to meet him again for the first time since I was two-years-old, at the end of seventh grade, and boy was I nervous. I had often dreamed of meeting my dad. I had seen home videos from when I was young, and even though I was constantly told not to get my hopes up, I always had that dream in the back of my mind. When I met Gary, it was on a warm sunny day at a local Rita’s. I was nervous, scared, excited, experiencing so many emotions all at once. He strolled around the corner with my oldest sister. He was so tall, I couldn’t believe it, and he had dark hair and brown eyes, just like me. I don’t remember much of what we talked about, but I remember we all laughed together a lot.
Suicide is often times a taboo subject, one that triggers emotions for many people who have been affected by it in one way or another. According to AFSP. On average there are about 129 suicides a day and in 2017 alone there were 1,400,000 attempts.
So what do I fight for? I fight to end suicide. For a few years now, my family has participated in AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Walks. These walks take place in different cities around the country throughout the year. They bring people together to help raise awareness and funds for furthering suicide prevention. We take a day to walk in our community as families, individuals and teams – different people from different walks of life who have experienced the loss of a loved one because of suicide.
Another great organization that raises awareness for suicide and self harm prevention is Project Semicolon. It is a nonprofit that takes donations to fight the cause. The organization also provides information regarding mental illnesses, suicide, and self harm. Its mission: “Project Semicolon is a global non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and love for those who are struggling with mental illness, suicide, addiction and self-injury. Project Semicolon exists to encourage, love and inspire.” Many people I know show their support by talking about this project, getting semicolon tattoos, or even making creative content based off of this powerful movement.
If depression or thoughts of suicide has been a struggle, please speak up and please reach out. Remember that even though it may not feel like it all the time, there are people around you who love and care for you more than you know.
Out of the Darkness: Shining a Light on Suicide Prevention
By Danielle Debley
In September 2010, just six months after my dad had passed, my family and I were walking the streets of Harrisburg alongside so many others whose lives had been touched by the loss of someone to suicide. It seems as though many struggle with no help or voice to speak up. But, there is hope.
Every September, in honor of Suicide Prevention Week, AFSP hosts its Out of the Darkness Walk. “Each year, suicide claims more lives than war, murder, and natural disasters combined. Yet suicide prevention doesn’t receive anywhere near the funding as other leading causes of death. It’s up to Walkers like us to make a difference. Together we can change the conversation about mental health and put a stop to this tragic loss of life.” This statement, found on AFSP’s landing page for its walks, strikes a chord.
Through these walks, ordinary people can come alongside ASFP to help raise funds for research that can bring understanding to mental health and hope to preventing suicide. There are options to walk and raise money as a team, an individual, and even a virtual walker. All options help to generate awareness and support for this mission.
When you participate in a walk, it gives you a sense of community; you are walking side by side with people that understand the pain and hurt, who understand the shock and even the guilt. You see families and friends celebrating the life that was, and others freshly mourning the soul that has gone. You build each other up, be it with a smile, a nod, the handing out of a water bottle or even an in depth conversation. Honor beads in different colors shine around the necks of each person, every color representing something different:
• White: the loss of a child
• Red: the loss of a spouse/partner
• Gold: the loss of a parent
• Orange: the loss of a sibling
• Purple: the loss of a relative or friend
• Silver: the loss of a first responder/military
• Green: a personal struggle or attempt
• Teal: supporting someone who struggles or has attempted
• Blue: supporting suicide prevention
The Out of the Darkness Walk in Harrisburg will take place on Sept. 7 starting on City Island near the FNB Field. Check-in begins at 9 a.m., the program starts at 11 a.m., and the walk will officially begin at 12 noon. Anyone who would like to participate can register in person at the walk from the time check-in begins until the walk starts. Registration is free and open to the public. Donations for the walk will be accepted until Dec. 31 of this year.
If you or anyone you know has experienced a loved one lost to suicide, please consider joining a walk or donating to someone who is planning on participating. Fighting for more research and development on raising awareness about suicide and striving to prevent it is key.