Opinion: Suicide prevention: moving to inter-dependence

By Jarrod Hindman, M.S.

Ask for help if you need it.

Say yes to someone who asks you.

Those two simple things can help to reduce the frequency of suicide, which claims more lives in Colorado than do motor vehicle crashes, homicide, breast cancer and diabetes.

Research has shown that people who are suicidal do not want to end their life. Rather, they want to end their pain. If a caring person can listen without judgment, talk with them about their suicidal feelings, and get them connected to professional help, there is a great opportunity to save a life.

We need to support the notion that it is courageous to ask for help. We must teach children at a young age how to ask and who to ask for help when they are hurting or struggling with problems. If we do this they will grow up believing that asking for help is the answer for feeling better, instead of believing that suicide is the answer.

As the program manager of the Office of Suicide Prevention at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, I have addressed many audiences on the topic of suicide and suicide prevention. Far too often people are surprised by the impact that suicide has in our state. Few are aware that Colorado has the sixth highest suicide rate in the country. Many dont understand how we can have such a high suicide rate in a state as beautiful and healthy as Colorado.

Unfortunately, too many view suicide as a character flaw or sign of personal weakness, or as a private matter in which others should not get involved. These are views rooted in misinformation, apathy and an unfounded concern that such a deeply personal issue is not someone elses business.

Suicidal feelings are not a character flaw. Science has shown that suicide is usually the result of biologically-based mental illness, most often depression. Fortunately, mental illnesses like depression are highly treatable. However, people who feel they are suffering with some form of mental illness are less likely to seek medical attention due to the stigma surrounding this issue, while most Americans would not hesitate to seek help from their doctor when high blood pressure or diabetes is diagnosed.

Many people believe that suicide cannot be prevented and they accept the notion that if someone really wants to die, there is nothing I can do about it. Research has shown that suicidal individuals do not just find another way to kill themselves after someone has intervened and a suicide has been prevented. One study of more than 500 suicidal people who were stopped from jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco showed that 94 percent of them did not go on to kill themselves. This is a remarkable example of the power of prevention and intervention.

Unfortunately, too few people are aware of the power and potential of suicide prevention. To truly impact our high suicide rate in Colorado, we need to raise awareness about what mental illness is and is not.

As individuals, we need to be more involved and connected within our communities. If we believe someone might be thinking of suicide, we have to be willing to ask them if they are suicidal, take the time to listen to them and help them get connected to the life saving resources they need. This means organizations like the Office of Suicide Prevention must provide trainings and materials that give people the knowledge and skills to help.

Coloradans celebrate their independent nature, their frontier spirit, and their ability to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. But as noble a quality as independence is in our state it may be enforcing the wrong message. To prevent suicide we need to value interdependence too. We need to understand that mental illnesses are physical illnesses. The issues that lead an individual to suicide are not shameful. These are issues that can be and should be addressed at multiple levels and across the private and public sector. Within the public sector there is already a lack of adequate funding, and certainly more resources towards health promotion are needed. However, even with limitless funding, progress in preventing suicide will be minimized without individual, social and cultural change in the way we talk aout mental health and suicide and until we value asking for and receiving help.

If you or someone you care about is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.TALK (8255).

About the writer: Jarrod Hindman is program manager of the Office of Suicide Prevention for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.