The suicides of Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and fashion designer Kate Spade, all within the last year-and-a-half, got the world talking – for a couple of weeks.
“What could have been done?” “Were there signs?” were among the questions people all over the world asked. Then, generally speaking, people shrugged, said it wasn’t much of an issue and the global conversation went away again.
When it comes to talking about suicide, people walk on eggshells. Discussing such a sensitive subject is rightfully tough for people, however, we’re at a point as a society where we need to have those difficult conversations.
Those celebrity deaths are a very real reminder that nobody is completely immune to depression, mental health issues and suicidal thoughts. Suicide affects people of all ages, creed, color, sex and incomes, and it has become more prevalent in recent years. More than 38,000 Americans die by suicide every year, according to dosomething.org. The site also reports suicide as the third-leading cause of death for 15 to 24 year olds and second for 24-35 year olds and that on average, one person dies by suicide every 16.2 minutes.
“But it doesn’t happen here in Platte County,” some might say.
It does. Tuesday night’s Candlelight Suicide Prevention Vigil in Frankfort Square proved that. The event was held in response to four reported suicides in Platte County in August, event facilitator Robin Swearingen previously told The Columbus Telegram. Dozens of people turned out to honor lost loved ones. There was an overwhelming sense of sadness on Tuesday night in the square as attendees held up their lit candles to honor those they knew who died by suicide. Several in attendance shared stories of loss, some recent, some from years ago, of loved ones ranging in age from 12-80. The pain from their losses, understandably, was still very raw.
We applaud organizers of this vigil and those who came out to honor late family members and friends. We hope to see more awareness events take place to continue this dialogue. But that isn’t just their responsibility; it’s the entire community’s.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and Sunday is the start of National Suicide Prevention Week. The latter is a week-long campaign in the U.S. to inform and engage health professionals and general public about suicide prevention and warning signs of suicide. We can do our part by asking what we can do better as opposed to just labeling individuals as those who “commit” suicide as though they’ve committed a crime. These people died by suicide because they had their own internal demons that were for whatever reason, and unfortunately, too much to handle.
If you feel you or someone you know are in need of resources to help treat suicidal thoughts, please call the national suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit its website at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/. It’s 24/7, free and confidential for people in distress, crisis resources and prevention for you or others.
Those who have lost loved ones to suicide can also find help through the Columbus Area Survivors of Suicide Support Group, for those 18 and older, which meets from 7 to 9 p.m. the first Tuesday of the month at First United Methodist Church, 2710 14th St.
Suicide is on the rise throughout rural America, and we must do more talking to help prevent it instead of waiting until after the fact when it’s too late. It’s OK to talk about suicide just like it has become OK to talk about sexual assault without fear of judgement or shame. There will be no healing or solutions until we’re actually willing to talk about it openly instead of skirt around it.
We can start by advocating to the Nebraska Legislature to improve funding for and access to mental health services. The state of Nebraska made the decision more than a decade ago to move away from institutional care for mental and behavioral health services in favor of local programs. The plan was to close state-run regional centers and shift that money to community-based services addressing the same needs. Only the latter really never happened, so mental health services and workers in the particular rural areas of Nebraska have been lacking. This concern has been brought up state Sen. Paul Schumacher, of Columbus, and various Platte County leaders in the past.
There was a commitment made to help community-based services that wasn’t properly kept – we need to be more vocal about it for those lost and their loved ones. Those grieving are not alone and shouldn’t be forced to stay in the shadows without support from those around them.
Change can’t come without more voices.