Connecting means creating hope

September is Suicide Prevention Month in Snohomish County
By Maria A. Montalvo | Sep 20, 2018

Suicide leaves its mark on all age groups.

On June 16, a 33-year-old woman jumped in front of a BNSF train in Edmonds in an incident witnessed by many, including children.

And earlier this month – five days after a woman was found dead next to a suicide note in a Fifth Avenue North condo in Edmonds – an elderly man took his life after a recent cancer diagnosis.

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and the Snohomish Health District and a number of local nonprofits, municipal agencies, and media outlets, are conducting special campaigns to increase awareness.

The joint goal is to demonstrate how individuals can intervene and change the path for someone in crisis.

“Giving hope is what saves lives,” said Wendy Burchill, Healthy Communities specialist with the Snohomish County Health District, of the County’s approach to suicide prevention and awareness.

Burchill still sees opportunities for hope, despite suicide rate statistics that she describes as “alarming” and “unprecedented in our community.”

The statistics are increasingly skewing younger.

Over four years, Snohomish County experienced a significant rise in suicide rate in the 15-24 age group. The county has also begun to track an age group it never had to in the past – those under 14.

“We are now seeing youth as young as 11 years old die by suicide,” Burchill said. “We did not see statistics for middle-schoolers until 2014.”

The Centers for Disease Control records statistics on suicide, and currently cites roughly 123 suicides each day in the U.S., with the highest rate among middle-aged white males (representing one in eight suicides in Washington).

Although the rate for men is much higher, the rate for women has been increasing faster. The suicide rate in Washington state increased 19 percent in the past 20 years.

There are more than 1,110 suicide deaths a year here, making it our state’s eighth leading cause of death. Of that, in Snohomish County, 113 people died by suicide in 2016, and it is the leading cause of death among 10-14 year olds and second only to accidents for the 15-24 age group.

Also according to the CDC, for every death by suicide, there are 25 attempted and even more contemplated, and the ability to engage those people during critical points in their mental health crisis can make all the difference.

Increasing awareness can remove the stigma, shame or discomfort associated with talking about suicide and promote the belief that anyone can intervene to help. Intervention can come from multiple sources and can be understood as engaging, connecting and speaking with those thinking about taking their lives.

“It is connectedness that help them survive,” Burchill said. “We know from talking to survivors that being offered small tokens of hope by someone else is enough to diffuse the crisis moment.”

Honestly engaging and telling someone they are important to you or that you want to see them tomorrow can make an impact on a person in crisis mode.

“It doesn’t mean they won’t be there again,” Burchill said, “but you will have probably saved a life in that moment.”

There are many contributing factors and theories about why suicide rates are increasing in the United States. They include climate change, lack of adequate health care or mental health care, income inequality and substance use disorders.

Social media also is a factor.

As communities attempt to understand the conditions that contribute to increased suicide rates, individuals can engage with each other to recognize warning signs or changes in behavior. Getting to know a neighbor living alone or talking more with your children’s friends can increase a sense of community and make it easier to have difficult conversations.

“Community connectedness ties in to hope,” Burchill said. “Taking the time to speak with someone offers hope in and of itself.”

Suicide does not discriminate, and statistics cross all socio-economic, geographic and demographic boundaries. Most Americans experience mental health concerns at some point in their lives.

One in 5 adults have a mental health condition, and 69 percent of Americans are impacted by a mental-health issue.

In Snohomish County, nearly 16 percent of sixth-graders and 23 percent of high school seniors have seriously considered attempting suicide. And just under 5 percent and 10 percent of sixth-graders and 12th-graders, respectively, actually attempted suicide.

Survivor testimony has shown that asking one question – Are you thinking of killing yourself? – is enough to lower anxiety. Burchill was clear to state that it is a myth that talking to those about suicide will plant the idea in their heads.

“That is simply not true,” she said.

“Someone who has thought about suicide has thought about it a lot. They are not just having a bad day. You are not going to plant the seed. It’s just the opposite. It will be met with relief. It will show that they matter because you care enough to ask.”

Here is information about ways you can engage locally or to learn more about suicide prevention,

• “Words Matter: Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide” training by Snohomish County Health District for journalists, bloggers, reporters, schools newspaper staff and students, social media users and communications professionals.

• “Everett Out of the Darkness Walk,” American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 9 a.m. Sept. 29 at Port of Everett Boxcar Park (afsp.donordrive.com).

• Rooted In Love Yoga and Snap Fitness in Edmonds will be hosting a “Day of Yoga” Sept. 29 at Snap Fitness to promote awareness and make a donation (100 percent of the proceeds) to suicide prevention organizations.

• Communities of Color Coalition and KSER Radio are presenting five programs dedicated to suicide prevention and awareness in its weekly series, “Color Commentary.”

• Homage Senior Services, Snohomish County Long Term and Aging and the Snohomish County Council on Aging Education all have awareness efforts.

 

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