Written by Paul Reich, Behavioral Health Program Manager
Traditional religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, have long viewed suicide as a sin against God. The Catholic Church used to forbid a funeral mass or burial in a Catholic cemetery, considering suicide a mortal sin. Until quite recently, suicide was illegal in some Western European countries, with England decriminalizing it in 1961 and Ireland in 1993. Fortunately, progress has been made and both governments and religions have changed their views of suicide.
While there have been significant advances over the past 100 years and we have seen our attitudes toward survivors of suicide and the family members of individuals who have died by suicide shift toward one of compassion, hope, resilience and recovery, suicide is still a topic which provokes uncomfortable feelings and fears, and is still surrounded by a veil of darkness. It is rare for families to speak openly of their loss, in part due to the continuing shame and stigma associated with suicide.
We lost almost 50,000 individuals to suicide in the United States in 2018, including almost 1,300 Coloradans. It remains the 2nd leading cause of death for individuals aged 10 to 44, and Colorado ranks 7th nationally in the number of deaths per 100,000 in population. These deaths lead some to ask, “Can suicide be prevented?”
We have felt the loss from suicide in our communities and we have seen several well-known individuals from the entertainment, food, and fashion industries die by suicide. Despite these losses, which have a tremendous impact on our communities, we know that there is hope, that suicide is preventable, and that recovery is possible.
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and Recovery Month, and September 6th to the 12th is Suicide Prevention Week. During this month we ask that individuals and organizations throughout our community join to shine a light on this difficult topic, and to reinforce the message that suicide can be prevented.
The causes of suicide are complex, and so are the solutions. Rarely, can suicide be attributed to a single cause. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, “Suicide most often occurs when stressors and health issues converge to create an experience of hopelessness and despair.” Preventing suicides requires broad-based efforts involving many in our community, including mental health and physical health care professionals, educators, law enforcement, our faith community, parents and families, and young persons. Working together, communities can create a comprehensive safety net for ourselves, friends and family members that includes prevention, early intervention, and support for those who are struggling, have attempted, or have lost someone to suicide.
Effective suicide prevention strategies exist that can reduce suicidal thinking and behavior. These include work in clinical settings such as the Colorado Follow Up Project, or the health care centered Zero-Suicide Initiative, and others are community-based including the Colorado Gun Shop Project. You can learn more about these initiatives at the Colorado Office of Suicide Prevention (https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe)
Providing training for community members to recognize the signs of suicide, and to prepare them to help an individual who may be living with suicidal thoughts, is an important element in creating a comprehensive safety net. Tri-County Health Network(TCHNetwork) offers training programs to teach community members how to respond when someone is struggling including Mental Health First Aid and safeTALK. You can learn more about these programs at https://tchnetwork.org/programs-2/.
If you are worried that someone is having thoughts of suicide, the next step is to find the words and reach out. It’s important to talk openly about suicide, and to ask directly: “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” or “Are you having thoughts of ending your life?” You can learn more about the risk factors and warning signs at https://afsp.org/risk-factors-and-warning-signs.
You can find a local therapist at www.tchnetworkdirectory.org, or take advantage of TCHNetwork’s low or no cost teletherapy program (free to students and staff in participating schools) by visiting https://tchnetwork.org/teletherapy. In addition, you can speak to a professional by calling The Center for Mental Health’s Crisis and Support line at 970-252-6220. In addition, CMH has a Crisis Walk-In Center open every day in Montrose at 300 N. Cascade Avenue, Montrose. Finally, you can call the National Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK, the Colorado Crisis Line at 844-493-TALK, or text TALK to 741741. These resources are available 24 hours per day/7 days per week.
You can help us change the message: there is hope, suicide is preventable, and recovery is possible.