DICKINSON — According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 45,979 Americans committed suicide in 2020. The CDC estimates that 3.2 million people in the United States made a suicide plan that year, while 1.2 million have tried it.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) works to reduce this figure with public awareness campaigns and educational seminars. One such seminar, “Talk Saves Lives: a Brief Introduction to Suicide Prevention,” will be held at 2 p.m. on Thursday, April 28 at CHI St. Alexius Hospital in Dickinson. The event is free and open to all adults. Masks will be mandatory.
“Suicide can be avoided. This presentation will cover what we know about this leading cause of death, the most recent research on prevention and what we can all do to fight suicide,” an AFSP official said in an email. “Participants will learn common risk factors for suicide, how to spot the warning signs in others, and how to keep ourselves, our loved ones, and our community members safe.”
Samantha Christopherson is the regional director for the North and South Dakota chapters of AFSP. She said the nonprofit is doing important work nationally and locally.
“Nationally, we are the leading private funder of mental health research,” Christopherson said.
Better biological and psychiatric knowledge of the brain allows healthcare workers to develop more powerful treatment tools and more resources to save lives and impact culture, she said.
“We are made up of a series of chapters. So it’s kind of the best of both worlds, we have the power and the expertise of a national organization and we do things locally. We do things in our communities like Dickinson,” she explained.
The AFSP is able to organize this event for free thanks to the generosity and hard work of donors, volunteers and committed citizens who attended Dickinson’s annual Out of the Darkness Walk in September, which raised over $30,000 for suicide prevention efforts. Christopherson underlined the seriousness of the problem.
“It’s the 12th leading cause of death in the United States,” Christopherson said. “But it is preventable. We know that for every death by suicide, it is estimated that there are 25 other attempts. So we want to educate as many people as possible.
She explained that there are identifiable warning signs that can be divided into three categories: changes in the way a person speaks and behaves, and their mood. The first would involve the individual talking about suicide in a way that seems unusual, lamenting that they feel hopeless or helpless. She added that some may give these signals in a sarcastic or joking way because they feel too ashamed or uncomfortable to discuss them directly with anyone.
“If they talk about it, it’s a sign that we have to take seriously,” she said. “The second is behavior. So maybe they’re just acting differently than they normally would. Maybe they withdraw from their friends, maybe they don’t do activities that they would normally really like and enjoy.
These behavioral changes could also include reckless acts, increased alcohol consumption, and use or experimentation with illicit substances. Likewise, a friend or family member may notice mood swings that could translate into sleeping much more or less than usual, a change in appetite, or just plain lethargy.
“Specifically, if it’s related to a big life event, we know those are signs that someone might have mental health issues,” she said. “We are humans. We want to think in terms of cause and effect, we want reasons for things. But we know that suicide is complex and there is no single cause. That’s why it’s so important to talk about these warning signs, these risk factors and to normalize conversations and seeking help.
Anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts is encouraged to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text 741741. They have trained professionals who also specialize in treating veterans with PTSD. Additional resources are also available at afsp.org.