Let me preface this by saying that I'm not credentialed, I don't have any particular expertise in mental or behavioral health, but like all of you, I'm human and have been impacted by suicide.
Today, depression, anxiety, and stress are increasingly affecting every demographic in this country and around the world. I often find myself worrying about my loved ones', friends', and even strangers' mental health and daily struggles; constantly wondering if something will happen. Suicide has continued to rise and is now a leading cause of death in the United States. In 2016, a reported 45,000 deaths in America were from suicide – the third leading cause of death among 10-14 year olds and the second leading cause of death among 15-34 year olds.1
I don’t think I need to continue to list off the devastating statistics around suicide. We know it's a problem. So the question becomes: how do we solve this problem and increase prevention?
For Unite Us, we believe in the power of community networks as a means to help prevent suicide. There is no one solution or way to prevent suicide, but we know that together we have a much better chance.
As we continue the conversation around the social determinants of health and the development of accountable community networks, it is critical to focus on how to leverage these partnerships to prevent suicide, increase access to mental health services, and provide support systems to those who don’t have one.
We know that common factors contributing to the increase in suicide are social isolation, lack of mental health treatment, drug and alcohol use disorders, and gun ownership. Additionally, we know that the risk of suicide is significantly higher after certain high-stress life events such as a loss of employment, the end of a relationship, or financial hardship. Understanding these patterns and risks can help us act proactively, and we can strengthen our efforts by working together as a network.
Through coordinating care in the community, we're not only able to deliver more effective and connected services, but we're also empowering individuals to self-advocate and learn how to take ownership of their own physical and mental health. This empowerment is a critical component to suicide prevention – arguably the most important.
We must empower individuals. We can’t just tell people to look on the bright side, how lucky they are, or how much they have to live for. We have to show them, we have to connect with them, and we have to use the most empathy that we possibly can to make that change. By providing individuals with social supports and networks, tools for self-care, and the strength and confidence to find ways to improve their lives, there's a much greater chance of avoiding suicide. In many of the personal stories I've heard and articles I've read about suicide, a common theme among survivors seems to be that they found the strength and resources to save their own life.
Many of these inspiring stories focus on the ability to share survivors' struggles and talk about them.
“Keep talking about it, use hotlines, emergency rooms, doctors, clergy, family, friends, strangers and pets. Just use up some time questioning how it’s a reasonable decision and you will hear from many people that it isn’t reasonable. And the urge to act on your irrational plan will pass. And then you will live more fully and be ready if you have unreasonable thoughts again. Stay safe. It’s a treatable, manageable illness. It will get better.”2
A different survivor shares their story and message:
“I have had depression for much of my life. It is a tremendously difficult disease to suffer with alone and unfortunately, in the U.S., we don’t talk about it enough. I’ve been suicidal on many occasions and finally found the support and medications that help me manage this illness.”2
Unite Us is committed to continuing our efforts for suicide prevention by building support systems to ensure that every person in need has access to the people, care, and services they need to stay alive and healthy. We are proud of all our partners on the ground who are providing comprehensive services and support to those who are struggling with mental illness, and we will continue to work alongside them to find innovative ways to support their missions.
We ask all of you to continue the great work you are doing and to share your stories. We will make sure that we do the same.