With the end of summer and fall fast approaching, it’s a good time to start thinking about September as National Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. For me, September is also a living reminder; this is the month my husband and I learned that we had unwittingly failed to help our friend in his darkest hour.
Last September, my husband was cleaning up his Gmail inbox when he came across an unopened email from his friend and colleague, whom I will call Mark. Mark had died about two years earlier and we had little information about his death. My husband was devastated after reading Mark’s email, which described a failed marriage and a recent suicide attempt. It was a call for help that went unheeded. Two months after this email was written, Mark committed suicide.
The loss of a loved one to suicide is often shocking, painful and unexpected, and can have profound emotional and financial tolls on families and communities. Family members and friends who knew and loved someone who died by suicide are often left with feelings of guilt, sadness, anger and shame. These are things I know on a professional level, as someone who has studied suicide prevention, but also on a personal level, as someone who has experienced this form of loss.
Nearly 800,000 people worldwide die by suicide each year, according to the World Health Organization. At home in Utah, suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in the state — an average of 657 suicides per year, according to Utah.gov’s Public Health Indicators Information System. These numbers include people of all ages, genders and backgrounds – people loved by family and friends.
People who attempt suicide often suffer from a mental illness like depression or various other distressing factors like social isolation, financial problems, relationship problems, job loss, and alcohol abuse. or drugs. It is important to be aware of these warning signs or any suicidal behavior that may indicate a need for immediate intervention, such as inpatient or outpatient mental health services. Although it can be difficult to say who will take action when suicidal thoughts arise, don’t be afraid to ask someone if they are thinking of harming themselves. It is a myth that talking about suicide will encourage suicide.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal behaviors or thoughts, there is hope. On July 16, the 988 Suicide & Crisis lifeline went into effect. Dialing 988 will allow any suicidal person to obtain immediate help in the event of a crisis. Support can also be found by contacting a local health care provider, mental health counselor, member of the clergy, or close family member or friend.
In honor of National Suicide Prevention and Suicide Awareness Month, Northern Utah Hope – better known as NUHOPE – will host a Suicide Prevention Walk for those impacted by suicide to find support and understanding within a community of people who want to save lives. NUHOPE is a coalition led by Intermountain Healthcare and Weber State University aimed at increasing suicide prevention and awareness. Information about this walk will be available at nuhopeutah.org. My husband and I will walk in memory of our dear friend Mark.
Dr. Cathy Harmston is an assistant professor at the Annie Taylor Dee School of Nursing at Weber State University, which will celebrate its 70th anniversary next year. She recently completed her doctorate in nursing practice where she focused her graduate project on suicide prevention.