2016_wspd_banner_sqYou want to turn away. And so you do, which is understandable.

After all suicide is a subject that few of us wish to think–much less talk–about, which may be exactly why raising awareness is so important.

Uncomfortable though it may be for some of us, September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Furthermore, this week in particular, September 5-11, has been designated National Suicide Prevention Week. http://www.suicidology.org/about-aas/national-suicide-prevention-week. There’s even a World Suicide Prevention Day, which takes place this Saturday, September 10. https://www.iasp.info/wspd/

According to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Suicide Prevention Month is meant to promote resources and awareness surrounding the issue of suicide prevention. The goal, according to NAMI’s website, is to offer constructive ways in which people can assist those in need, including techniques for talking about suicide without increasing the possibility of self-harm.http://www.nami.org/Get-Involved/Awareness-Events/Suicide-Prevention-Awareness-Month

After my twenty-two-year-old son took his life six years ago, I was in a deep state of shock and hardly knew what was going on around me. Understandably, I had no idea that National Suicide Prevention Month had begun only days following my son’s death on August 28, 2010. Had I even heard of National Suicide Prevention Month? I hadn’t, even though my son had had at least three prior attempts.

Following my son’s death I couldn’t imagine ever finding help when it came to coping with the complicated grief that so often accompanies the suicide of a close loved one. But I did, through monthly meetings of a suicide survivors’ group sponsored by the local chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. If nothing else, the meetings helped in that they reminded me that there were others out there who’d had similar experiences and that I wasn’t alone.

I’ve also written a memoir about losing my son, which is scheduled to come out next year in connection with Suicide Prevention Month. My hope is that the book will focus attention on a number of issues relating to suicide, including the stigma as well as the isolation survivors often feel.

In 2014, the latest year for which figures are available, more than 42,700 people died by suicide in the United States, which works out to an average of 117 suicides per day or one every twelve minutes.

International figures are equally alarming. The World Health Organization estimates that worldwide more than 800,000 people die by suicide every year. That’s one person every forty seconds. Up to twenty-five times as many attempt suicide.

In addition to National Suicide Prevention Month, the first World Suicide Prevention Day was held thirteen years ago as an initiative of the International Association for Suicide Prevention and the World Health Organization.http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/wspd/en

The theme for World Suicide Prevention Day 2016 is “connect, communicate, care.” The word “connect” in this context has to do with what the IASP describes as fostering connections with those who’ve lost a loved one to suicide as well as with those who may have experienced suicidal feelings, in an effort to better understand and thus prevent suicide in the future.

According to the IASP website, “those who have lost someone to suicide can provide insights into how they moved forwards on their journey.” Without consciously planning it this was exactly what I was hoping to accomplish when I set out to write my book. But even without writing a book we as suicide survivors have a lot to share, not only with other survivors but also with the public at large. We know. We’ve been there. We can tell others what it’s like to lose someone to suicide. We can offer valuable insights that might help save a life before it’s too late.

Many survivors do go on to become advocates in one form or another in an effort to raise awareness. That is their mission. Is it mine? Yes, to a certain extent it is, although it’s more my personality to write than it is to raise money or to walk in suicide awareness walks. And yet all of these activities–as well as countless others–are vitally important. Like many if not most of us, over the years I’ve met a number of people–both before but especially since my son’s suicide–who’ve been personally affected by the suicide of a close loved one. So many that in fact suicide often feels like a silent epidemic as well as a largely underreported one.(Are the figures for suicide underreported? Some experts say they are since questionable deaths are often recorded as accidental rather than intentional.)

Such is the mystery of suicide–the fact that we often don’t know why it occurs or even if a suicide was truly a suicide. And yet shouldn’t we try taking time this month to talk about this elephant in the living room, even if we feel absolutely certain that suicide will never affect either us or our loved ones? (I was like that once, I’m ashamed to say. Despite my son’s prior attempts I felt certain that this sort of tragedy always happened to “other” people.)

Suicide is and probably always will be an uncomfortable topic. Still there is much we can do. We can raise the subject with someone who might need help. We can comfort a survivor, thus reducing that person’s feelings of isolation. We can talk with others, whether directly affected or not, in an effort to reduce the stigma that often accompanies the very word “suicide.” We can put a candle in a window this Saturday at 8 p.m. in connection with World Suicide Prevention Day. What, if anything, are you doing this year to commemorate Suicide Prevention Day, Week or Month? I’d love to hear from you.

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