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National Suicide Awareness Month
National Suicide Awareness Month

Kevin Drollinger, President and Executive Director--Provident Behavioral Health

It seems to me that almost every day, week and month is devoted to a cause, event, object or person. It's hard to keep track. But September is special in my eyes - it's National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. This month is a time to spread awareness by sharing education, resources and stories in an effort to shed light on this highly stigmatized topic. We use this month to reach out to those affected by suicide and connect individuals with suicidal thoughts to treatment services. For many, the subject of suicide is off limits. We understand that coroners in some communities still mark suicide as "accidental death" to avoid the stigma that suicide still evokes. Many people believe the mere mention of suicide around friends and family can cause suicidal thoughts for them. But that's not true.

Death by suicide has a ripple effect across space and time. Witness the suicides of Robin Williams, Kate Spade, and Anthony Bourdain to name a few. Suicide impacts individuals, families, friends, and entire communities. According to officials at the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 700,000 people die by suicide each year globally. In Missouri, suicide continues to be a critical public health issue. Rates in Missouri exceed those of the nation as a whole and have been steadily rising. In 2021, there were 1,176 deaths (51 more deaths than in 2020) and suicide was the 2nd leading cause of death in ages 10 to 24 and 10th overall-far exceeding the number of deaths from motor vehicle accidents and homicides.

For every one death by suicide, research shows at least 25 people will attempt suicide, leaving thousands of individuals and their friends and families impacted by suicidal behaviors. Additionally, being a suicide survivor immediately puts a person at-risk for suicide (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018). Since 1999, rates of leading causes of death, such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer have been decreasing but according to a report by the CDC, the suicide rate in the US has increased by 35% (Caine E.D., 2018).

Preventing suicide requires everyone's commitment, from the individuals struggling with their own thoughts of suicide to the systems and communities that support them. Only a strategic approach that engages everyone at every level will lead to the aspirational goal to fully eliminate suicide. We need to continue to spread this at every access point and even further into our communities we serve.

Thankfully, now we have a new resource in Missouri to directly help those who have thoughts of suicide. As of July of this year, anyone, anywhere in the nation can dial 988 and connect immediately with a free, confidential, and trained crisis responder. Provident is honored to play a part in the overall effort in Missouri in implementing 988, and like other centers in the country we're already experiencing an almost 50% increase in our crisis calls. And the Missouri 988 has been a wholly bipartisan response to fund and support the infrastructure to implement 988 with sensitivity and fidelity. So far at this early stage, we're all holding our own. Missouri has been appropriately singled out as a national leader in its crisis response efforts. 

So how can you help? Educate others about the new 988 resource. Continue your good work in reducing stigma around mental health issues, particularly about suicidal thoughts and gestures. And take time to thank our legislators, Missouri Department of Mental Health, and community providers who have stepped up to help implement this once in a generation change in crisis intervention.

 (note - a big tip of the hat to Nicole Lee, the Zero Suicide Coordinator for the Missouri Behavioral Health Council, for providing significant input into this post)

Kevin Drollinger

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