September is Suicide Awareness Month.
Suicides in the United States hit a record high last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s an estimated increase of three percent compared to 2021.
This is troubling for several reasons. Behind almost every suicide is a distraught family facing indescribable grief without any real answers. Having officiated several funerals after a suicide, I have seen the pain and anguish firsthand. As a pastor, I have struggled to provide comfort to family members.
Later in my career, I worked as a Mental Health Manager at the Alan B. Polunsky Men’s Maximum-Security Prison that housed people on death row. I responded to over 1,000 suicidal outcries over my nearly six years. I came to tell the offenders, “If you do this, it will be the meanest thing you can ever do to your family.”
“Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” someone wisely said. Most often, that is the case. Our temporary problems can be mediated or even remedied if we are willing to ask for help.
Within the last two years, the National Suicide Hotline has become more accessible. Those experiencing mental distress can dial 988. Recent statistics show the power of this intervention and making a human connection with evidence of a 90% success rate.
Suicide leaves a family shattered and shackled to questions for which there are no helpful answers. Most people have a natural revulsion to suicide and cannot understand how pain or a temporary situation would result in this response. So, family members are left not knowing why.
Additionally, there is often guilt for those left behind. There is a nagging sense of “If only,” “What did I miss?” or “Why didn’t I see this coming?” These questions and every other that will follow will never be answered.
So, what can we do to bring down the suicide rate in our part of the world?
First, you can add the National Suicide Hotline number, which is “988,” to your contact list on your phone.
Second, you can be attentive to those around you who are prone to self-isolate, struggle emotionally or have mental health issues. Attentiveness can be as simple as checking on and checking in with someone you haven’t seen in a while.
Not all depression reaches the level of suicidal ideation. But people who struggle with depression can be more likely to move toward suicidal thoughts in their heads and hearts.
Third, teens continue to struggle with thoughts of suicide after COVID-19, with young women having an especially challenging time. Parents of teens should be attentive to changes in mood, depressive symptoms, life at home and at school. Monitoring their social media engagement is also important.
Finally, don’t ever be afraid to ask someone if they are thinking about suicide. You won’t be giving them the idea. Instead, you are confirming what you are sensing and feeling.
Most of all, if you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, there is help available.
A private practice counselor working with veterans and survivors of trauma. Previously, Chancellor served four churches in Texas for 33 years, then ran a Mental Health Department of Alan B. Polunsky Maximum Security prison which houses death row.