Suicide Prevention Now: A Necessary National Shift Is Overdue

Addressing the Myths of Suicide and Paths of Prevention

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Speak Up. Listen. Connect.

I know six people who have died from suicide; my father was one of them.

Unlike the mythology surrounding suicide, those who attempt suicide don’t want to hurt friends or family. They want to leave the pain that is so great that it overrides the biological instinct to survive. Every 40 seconds a person dies from suicide. Close to 800,000 people die from suicide every year globally.

The ongoing crises of social isolation, joblessness, uncertainty, racism, and anxiety about the COVID-19 virus, are putting people all over the world at risk for suicide. This is a brutal reminder of the urgency of addressing the myths of suicide and creating access to the paths of prevention.

According to Pew Research Center, George Everly, professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said, “There’s no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic will be the most psychologically toxic disaster in anyone’s lifetime.” 

As COVID-19 surges throughout the U.S. and the world, with more than 19 million cases worldwide and 160,000 deaths in the U.S. there is a concern that a concurrent surge in suicides will follow.

doctor in Chennai, China who was treating COVID patients recently died from suicide by jumping off a building.

A thirty-six year old woman in South Andaman died from suicide after testing positive for COVID-19 and was undergoing treatment.

In April, Dr. Lorna Breen, medical director of the emergency department at New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital who was treating COVID patients died from suicide. A new bill named in her honor, the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act, was introduced to the Senate. This bill addresses efforts to prevent, increase awareness, and provide education about suicide and mental health conditions among health care professionals.

Common stereotypes of people who attempt or commit suicide are that they are emotionally weak, cowardly, attention-seeking, selfish, malingering, and immoral. How society views and portrays mental health crises and suicide does affect people.

The federal government recently launched a $53 million dollar nationwide campaign, Reach, to inform people in the U.S. on how to talk about suicide and suicide prevention.

COVID-19 has increased the need for people to be aware of the resources such as suicide safety plans . The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline  have worked with social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and others to create a recommended best practices in suicide prevention for social and digital media.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Miami asked their community what things they were doing to help their mental health during the pandemic and made a video. They also are providing free wellness support groups. This type of support groups should be created and available to all diverse communities.  

“We have never had a national conversation about suicide,” said Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, the executive director of the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS).

When a family loses a loved one to suicide they face the whispers, stigma, and morbid curiosity that people have around “how” your loved one died. 

There was endless gossip around our small town in Utah after my father’s suicide. One extreme was that he had the right to murder himself, another was he went straight to hell.  I thought it was the gun that killed my father, but it was his untreated mental illness that killed him. 

During this precarious time of a global pandemic it is critical that health care providers, business leaders, policy makers, community leaders, parents, and individuals need to participate in a nonjudgmental, informative, national suicide conversation. 

There is not a day goes by that I don’t think what I could have done to help save my dad. What I do know is that suicides can be prevented.     

Sonja Wasden is a mental health advocate, keynote speaker and co-author of An Impossible Life.

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