Mental Health illnesses affects more than a quarter of the US population, yet two-thirds go without treatment.Specifically related to this, suicide is currently the 2nd leading cause of death for our youth ages 10 to 24. More teenagers die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, combined. Unfortunately, the suicide rate continues to increase each year, and we are seeing the highest rate of suicide, per capita, in the last 15 years. Additionally, each day in our nation, there are more than 5,000 suicide attempts by young people in grades 7th through 12th and four out of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs. So, what can be done about this? As with most problems of this magnitude, there is no easy solution, but there are some simple things people can do to help.
- We need to begin by having a conversation about suicide, specifically suicide prevention. The fact is if we don’t openly talk about this, we can never find our way to zero suicides, which is the goal for everyone. Most recently, there has been a new show on Netflix called ’13 Reasons Why’, which has publicly placed suicide in the forefront of discussions nationwide. Without going into the already publicized flaws, myths, and inaccuracies of suicide depicted in ’13 Reasons Why’, it would be more helpful to talk about ways of using this to have a movement towards suicide prevention. For example, adults can start with having an open conversation with youth about this show; discussions around if are they are watching it, what they know about suicide, and how it affects them are valuable conversations to have.
- More people need to focus on educating themselves about suicide prevention, knowing the basic facts, and how to start this conversation about suicide in an open and safe way. At a minimum, everyone needs to know about the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) which can put a suicidal individual in touch with a local crisis hotline counselor (such as the Alachua County Crisis Center here in our community). The next step is how do we prepare our community to be more adept in doing this?
- More individuals need to become certified in Mental Health First Aid, a program that teaches adults the risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems (including suicide) in adolescents. This program builds the understanding of early intervention and teaches participants how to help an adolescent in crisis. Additionally, this course is beneficial for any adult who regularly interacts with adolescents (teachers, school staff, coaches, youth group leaders, parents, etc…) and it is also indicated for older adolescents (ages 16 and older) to encourage peer to peer interaction.