Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, and in the United States this is National Suicide Awareness Month.
Suicide is the act of intentionally causing one’s own death. Mental disorders and substance abuse are often major risk factors, especially in combination with one another.
While some suicide attempts are impulsive, a response to major stressors in life, other attempts are well-planned, frequently as a result of depression, with sometimes dramatic staging involved.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated the annual suicide rate as 10.6 per 100,000 people worldwide as of 2016 numbers. It is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, with approximately 123 Americans committing suicide daily.
Look at your watch, your device, your nearest clock. In the next 12 minutes, someone in the USA will commit suicide. That is the average. It takes the lives of nearly 45,000 Americans each year.
This year, the WHO has launched a “40 seconds of action” campaign in order to both raise awareness of the scale of suicide across the globe and to highlight the role each of us can play in order to help prevent it.
That 40 seconds figure was arrived at due to the fact that someone around the world loses their life to suicide an average of every 40 seconds.
While suicidal thoughts affect individuals of every age, race and sex, it is the second-highest cause of death in the world for young people aged 15-24. The CDC estimates that 20-25% of Americans age 18+ are affected by depression in any given year.
Depression and suicide also do not care about your or your family’s celebrity status. A decade after her 18-year-old son, Michael Blosil, committed suicide by jumping from the balcony of his eighth-floor Los Angeles apartment, Marie Osmond still struggles with the loss.
“I think God gives you respites. And then all of the sudden it will hit you like the day it did. The ripple effect is so huge, what you leave behind.”
We often think of police officers as some of the strongest among us. On an almost daily basis, officers experience the worst that can happen to people. Victims of crime and accidents, even direct threats or attacks on themselves. You need to be strong to handle that day-in, day-out mental, emotional and physical grind.
But as I learned both in nearly thirty years of my own law enforcement experience and specifically in teaching a course on law enforcement suicide for a couple of years as a Sergeant with the Philadelphia Police Department’s Training Bureau, police officers are far from immune.
Between 2003-2013, there were 17 Philadelphia officers who committed suicide. The numbers fluctuate each year, but continue to show that, on average, one or two Philly cops kill themselves each year. PTSD is a primary factor in the vast majority, perhaps in all, of these losses.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has estimated that twice as many law enforcement officers take their own lives each year as die in duty-related assaults or traffic accidents. For each successful suicide by a police officer, there are up to 25 attempts, according to an IACP report on the topic.
Here are some of the suggestions the WHO makes for all of us to consider as part of their “40 seconds” program:
Are you struggling yourself with thoughts of suicide? Take just 40 seconds to “kickstart a conversation” with someone you love and/or trust. Tell them about how you are feeling and what you are considering.
If you know someone who has lost a loved one to suicide, take 40 seconds to start a conversation with them. Don’t text. Don’t send an IM or slide into their DM’s. Don’t drop them an email.
Call them. Listen to their voice. Let them hear your voice, the genuine love, compassion, and concern you have for them. In the first 40 seconds of the phone call, directly let them know you were thinking of them, and ask them how they are doing. Then…listen.
The WHO also recommends that those working in media take the time to highlight the “every 40 seconds” statistic, and point those who may be struggling to resources that can help. I will include many good ones at the end of this piece.
If you work in the arts, or have a platform for communicating (such as me with this website), take the time to communicate the “40 seconds” statistics and message.
You can at least take 40 seconds to put together an email directed at your local, state and national political leaders, imploring them to prioritize mental health and suicide awareness and prevention resources.
If you know someone, or are someone, who has made a prior suicide attempt, you should be aware that it is a major risk factor for a future suicide. Be sure to stay in touch with loved ones, and to reach out. Seek help. Be help.
All of us can at least do our small part to improve awareness of the significance of suicide as a legitimate health problem, both here in America and around the world. For instance, share a “meme” or other graphic found on the internet in your social media feed today.
We can all improve our own knowledge on the topic, help reduce the stigma associated with suicide attempts, and perhaps most importantly to let people who are struggling know that they are not alone.
The WHO considers that suicides are preventable. It just takes people who care. Care enough about yourself to reach out. Care enough about struggling loved ones to get and stay involved in their lives.
With as little as 40 seconds of action from all of us, we can begin to lower those averages. We can begin to make a real difference. We can begin to help save lives, perhaps our own, perhaps those of a loved one. Just 40 seconds.
- AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention)
- APA (American Psychological Association)
- ASA (American Psychiatric Association)
- BGEA (Billy Graham Evangelistic Association)
- CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Focus on the Family
- Healthy Minds Philly
- IACP – Law Enforcement Suicide Prevention & Awarenesss
- Life Teen
- NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health)
- Psychology Today
- SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education)
- Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- Veterans Crisis Line
- World Health Organization