Writing about mental health is complicated. When I started writing about my journey with depression and anxiety more than three years ago, I learned how difficult it was to put into words what I was going through. One thing that helped was learning about all the days, weeks and months of awareness throughout the calendar year that highlight specific aspects of mental health. I would use that time as an opportunity for education — not only to help myself, but to learn how I could help others who are going through some of the same things. That’s why Suicide Prevention Awareness Month is, and will continue to be, one of the most important months for the mental health community every year.
What is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month?
Suicide Prevention Awareness Month is every September in the United States, and is recognized as a time to share resources and stories to shed more light on the topic of suicide prevention. In that way, it is very similar to other ‘Awareness’ months throughout the calendar year (for instance, Mental Health Awareness Month occurs in the United States every May). The main reason it is held in September is to correspond with National Suicide Prevention Week (this year, that week is September 6-12) and World Suicide Prevention Day (September 10). This month many prominent mental health organizations around the country will lead an open and honest discussion about suicide prevention. Despite the added push for awareness, this conversation is still extremely difficult to have in America — even as suicide continues to be one of the leading causes of death here.
Suicide is a Public Health Issue
One of the main reasons Suicide Prevention Awareness Month exists is because the topic of suicide and suicide prevention is still highly stigmatized. This reluctance to talk about suicide, and how to prevent it, keeps us from seeing how urgent an issue it is for our country. In the last 20 years, the suicide rate in the U.S. has grown by more than 25 percent, and it was the tenth-leading cause of death in the United States in 2018. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reported that in 2017 there were an estimated 1.4 million suicide attempts in the U.S, and 4.3% of American adults admitted to having suicidal thoughts at some point that year. In fact, suicide has even been deemed a public health issue by the CDC.
Around the globe, there are even harder stats to stomach. Nearly 800,000 people die by suicide in the world each year; that is roughly one death every 40 seconds. Suicide is also the second leading cause of death in the world for young people between 15-24 years old.
Suicide Prevention’s Link to Mental Health
While those statistics can be overwhelming and terrifying (and I’d agree that they are), this didn’t happen overnight. The suicide rate has seen a steady rise as long as I’ve been alive, and will continue to do so if we don’t work harder to bring awareness to suicide prevention and combat the stigmas that keep us from talking about it.
While we raise awareness for de-stigmatizing suicide prevention, we also have to remember it’s part of a bigger conversation about mental health. Until we prioritize talking about mental health, suicide will continue to pose a threat to our communities. We can’t pretend there’s not a correlation between rising suicide rates and an increase in people who admit they’re struggling with mental health conditions. We need to change the way we talk about both of these topics, and it starts with education and awareness — especially if we’re not going through these struggles ourselves.
What Can We Do? Plenty.
If you are new to learning about suicide prevention, use this month to expand your understanding about the topic by knowing what resources are available and listening to the stories of those who are already in the fight for prevention. Prominent mental health organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness , the National Institute on Mental Health and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention are good entry points to learn more about this month, the topic of suicide prevention and other mental health-related information. Additionally, NAMI and the AFSP have regional and local chapters if you want to volunteer your time, money or resources to fighting suicide in your own community.
There is also a world of information on how you can join the fight against suicide for the many different groups of people affected. Suicide does not discriminate, and so many more people need help than most realize. In my own research, I’ve found resources that are devoted to preventing suicide in the LGBTQ+ community (you can learn more about the Trevor Project here ) as well as veterans, and resources exist for many other communities as well.
One of the most important things you can do to fight for suicide prevention is knowing who to contact in an emergency. Know these numbers. Save them in your contacts. Put them in your friends and loved ones’ phones. The number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. If talking on the phone isn’t the best option, you can text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to have a confidential conversation via text.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Talking about suicide can be very difficult. Whether you’ve gone through your own struggle or known someone else who has, it can seem easier sometimes to push those thoughts to the back of your brain and focus on other things. As someone who has battled suicidal ideation for years, and who wakes up every day figuring out how to live with depression and anxiety and all the obstacles that they create, I urge you to talk about it! So many people think that the only ones qualified to talk about suicide prevention are mental health professionals and people who have firsthand experience. But the truth is that we can’t be the only ones talking! While professionals and people who experience suicidal ideation have the stories that you need to hear and are sharing resources, everyone has a part to play when it comes to suicide prevention.
I fight against suicide every single day in the way I interact with others and interact with the world. Even while doing so, I’m still struggling on my own journey.
In the fight against suicide, I know what I’m up against. And let me tell you firsthand – fighting suicide is a mountain. The good news is that I have tools, I have support and I’ve learned the skills to fight that fight. There are millions of people out there with my same struggles, issues and fears— and right now, they’re fighting suicide with one hand tied behind their back.
Months like this are the first step to making sure every person has the awareness, education and resources they need to continue the work of suicide prevention. It is difficult work. Learning to fight for suicide prevention is some of the most important work I’ve ever done. That’s why I will continue to use my voice for good.
You can find more resources about mental health and suicide prevention, as well as stories from Nathan’s journey, at My Brain’s Not Broken.