Updated: Sep 22
September is National Suicide Prevention Month.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released provisional data indicating 49,449 people ended their life in 2022. This is a 3% increase from 2021, and the highest annual number of suicides ever recorded in the United States (CDC news release, Aug. 10, 2023).
Almost 50,000 people is a lot. Indeed, the number may be difficult to fully conceptualize, so let me give you a visual that may clarify the magnitude of this loss.
The JMA Wireless Dome in Syracuse, New York can seat a little over 49,000 people. Using last year's losses to suicide would mean that every single person in the photo below represents a soul that is no longer with us.
How can we ameliorate this tragedy?
As many of you know, I actually work in two roles throughout my workweek. One role is as a staff chaplain at a medical center. The other role is a 988 suicide prevention crisis counselor. In these two positions I regularly encourage and support individuals who are either contemplating suicide or who took action to end their life and are now in the hospital. My service in these two roles has been the most difficult work I have ever done, and also the most enlightening.
Callers and patients have taught me innumerable lessons about suffering, resiliency, and hope. So for this post, I want to share one of my discoveries from the frontlines of the mental health battlefield. My goal is that this information will stir you to take action so that our losses to suicide this year will be lower than the year before.
What I've learned from listening to hundreds of callers and patients who are suicidal is that they really need to talk honestly and fully with someone they know cares about them. Close family members often provide this kind of love, but patients and callers tell me that they really don't want to burden their spouses, parents, or children. So they are caught in a dilemma. Friends can't usually provide the kind of support and love that the suicidal person needs, but the suicidal person doesn't want to disappoint or upset their close family members. Is there anyone who can stand in the gap?
Fortunately, there is a person who many suicidal individuals find to be a positive and significant influence in their life. Over and over again, callers and patients have told me that the person in their life who has helped them the most when they were discouraged and overwhelmed was one of their parents' brothers or sisters--an aunt or uncle.
So if you are an aunt or an uncle, I want to encourage you to reach out to your nieces and nephews during this suicide prevention month. Send them a text, make a call, set up a personal visit. Whatever it takes, just be sure to let them know that you love them and that you are always available for them. And for those of you who are nieces and nephews, why not reach out to your aunts and uncles? There is only one situation when it's too late to make a connection, and we are trying to keep that from happening.