Guest Commentary

It’s important to talk about suicide, listen without judgment

Suicides are rising across the U.S.

(2018) Suicide is on the rise across the United States. It is more than a mental health condition — states and communities can adopt comprehensive strategies to prevent suicide.
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(2018) Suicide is on the rise across the United States. It is more than a mental health condition — states and communities can adopt comprehensive strategies to prevent suicide.

Suicide rates are rising globally, including here in Sedgwick County, which has a higher average suicide rate per 100,000 people than Kansas and the nation, according to recent data from the Sedgwick County Suicide Prevention Coalition. In 2018, the county’s 101 deaths by suicide marked the highest number since the coalition started tracking data in 2001.

The reasons behind these rising numbers are complex and hard to know, but we do know that even one death by suicide is one too many. We also know that for each life lost many more are profoundly affected. We know that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and knows no boundaries, crossing all age, racial and socioeconomic groups.

Some risk factors for suicide include relationship and financial issues, substance use, bullying, a traumatic or stressful life event, depression and other mental illnesses and life stressors. We know some signs of suicide including hopelessness, changes in behavior, withdrawal from friends and family, talking about wanting to die and talk about being a burden to others. In older adults, talk about unbearable physical pain may be a warning sign. We know suicidal behaviors when we see them, such as increased alcohol and drug use, isolation from family and friends, sleeping too little or too much or withdrawing from activities. Relatedly, we know the characteristic moods of suicide including anxiety, rage, irritability and shame.

Unfortunately, as a society we do not openly talk enough about suicide, usually because it’s uncomfortable, misunderstood and heartbreaking. We must have more personal and public conversations about suicide and mental illness to raise awareness and save lives.

Comcare Sedgwick County and our community partners know it’s important to talk about suicide and to listen without judgment. We want to bring suicide into the public spotlight for greater understanding, enhanced collaborations and better solutions. Here are some resources:

  • Help is a call away. Call the 24-hour Community Crisis Center suicide prevention hotline number (316) 660-7500 or text CONNECT to 741741. You can help Comcare, family, friends and others by promoting the crisis center number. The National Suicide number is 800-273-8255 and there are ongoing efforts to implement an easy-to-remember, three-digit prevention hotline number.
  • The Board of County Commissioners has added six new full-time positions for Comcare in 2020, recognizing this complex and growing problem.
  • A Mental Health and Substance Abuse Coalition is collaborating and working strategically to bring an integrated system of care for people fighting substance abuse and mental health disorders in crisis.
  • A USD 259 and Sedgwick County mental health pilot program offers on-site services to students in 22 schools; the pilot program was recently expanded to include two more USD 259 schools and two additional area school districts.
  • Sedgwick County recently launched an innovative pilot program, the Integrated Care Team, or ICT-1. The program uses a law enforcement officer, a qualified mental health professional and a paramedic to respond to mental health calls in an efficient and effective way, in part, by identifying appropriate resources.
  • Comcare offers classes on mental health first aid and ASSIST training to teach knowledge and skills to better intervene when you observe someone in crisis.

What should you do if you see warning signs?

  • If someone mentions suicide, take it seriously.
  • Be direct and talk openly and matter-of-fact about suicide.
  • Be willing to listen. Allow expressions of feelings.
  • Accept the feelings.
  • Ask if the person is thinking about suicide
  • Offer hope that help is available.
  • Do not leave him or her alone.
  • Get help immediately!

Let’s keep working together to reverse these trends and save lives.

Joan Tammany is the executive director of Comcare
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