Nebraska initiative offers hope and suicide prevention

March 25, 2018

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — It’s time to talk.

Time to shrug off the awkwardness, to speak up, start a conversation, ask a question — and maybe save a life, say members of the Lincoln-Lancaster County Suicide Prevention Coalition. And they want to help.

The coalition — begun in 2014 after a spike in suicides by young people — is launching an initiative to help eliminate the stigma surrounding suicide and the reluctance of people to talk about it.

That reluctance comes, in part, because of a persistent idea that talking about suicide will cause it to happen, an idea that all research has shown to be a myth, said Rose Hood-Buss, executive director of The HUB and co-chair of the coalition.

“We should be as comfortable as possible talking about it,” she said. “If we’re all aware and talking even in generalities we begin to break down those stigmas.”

When people are ill, others want to help, want to comfort with food and kind words. They reach out, unless the sickness is despair.

“We’re a casserole community, but when it comes to mental health we back off,” she said.

And we shouldn’t.

When the coalition began, 21 young people in Lincoln between the ages of 10 and 24 had died from suicide in a two-year period, including three in a matter of weeks in 2014, the Lincoln Journal Star reported.

Over the next three years, 22 young people in Lincoln took their own lives, including nine last year. They were among 45 people of all ages who died by suicide in 2017 — the highest number in 22 years.

In 2016, suicide was the leading cause of death in Nebraska for people ages 10-14 and the second most-common cause of death in 15- to 24-year-olds.

That’s why the coalition’s efforts have been focused on young people, but its work can help anyone.

Over the past three years, the volunteer coalition distributed gun lock boxes to the community through gun amnesty events and got suicide prevention signs in city and university parking garages.

It also offers free training to anyone in the community on how to intervene with someone contemplating suicide. Over the past three years, 8,000 people in 16 Southeast Nebraska counties, including Lancaster, have received the training.

The campaign is the next step. The training is evidence-based and specific, and now the coalition wants to open doors wider, encourage everybody to talk about suicide and mental health problems.

To that end, there’s a mural in the Haymarket with a message: Speak up. Bring hope.

There’s a website with information about suicide prevention, ways to help and places to get help.

And there are “conversation kits” — boxes full of stuff to help spark discussion.

The kits contain wristbands that say “There is hope; there is help,” along with the number of the suicide hotline; “HopeLNK” stickers just the right size for the back of a cellphone; a decal that could be put in an office or classroom window to let people know the person inside is someone who will listen. There’s a card with tips about how to talk to each other. There are Speak up. Bring hope T-shirts.

A state grant paid for the kits, and 50 have already been given to businesses, doctors’ offices and individuals.

Soon, coalition members will hand out the remaining 100. They’ll distribute some at a sold-out March 26 screening of “Suicide: The Ripple Effect” at The Grand.

They’ll hold events in April near a mural, on the west side of the Crawdaddy’s building at 700 O St., to hand out others. Those interested in requesting a kit can do so on the HopeLNK website.

Inside, there’s at least two of everything, enough to give away — and then hand the kit off to someone else who can do the same, spreading visible signals that send a message: It’s OK to talk about this. There is hope.

That message of hope is vital, Hood-Buss said.

“For an individual who is suicidal, they are in a very deep, dark place. ... They’ve lost hope. They can’t see the future,” she said.

It might feel uncomfortable to ask, but do it anyway.

“We need to step out of our comfort zone and realize we can save a life,” Hood-Buss said.

The kits contain a card with suggestions: Ask open-ended questions about why someone is feeling hopeless. Respond with words of encouragement and understanding. Be direct and ask if they are or have considered suicide.

It’s important, Hood-Buss said, to give the person time to answer, to understand silence doesn’t indicate what the answer will be. If the person acknowledges they have a plan in place and the means to carry out the plan, she said, call 911 or go with them to a hospital such as Bryan West Campus in Lincoln, which has a mental health emergency room.

If they have thought about suicide, but don’t have a plan or the means, be supportive, elicit a promise that they won’t do anything until they see a professional for help.

“When you can have a direct conversation, you plant that seed of hope. Hope is really what saves lives.”


Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com