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Let's do more to stop suicide

by Deidre Ashley

September 21, 2016 | from Sound Mind | The Jackson Hole News & Guide

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, which made headlines with presidential candidate Hillary Clinton rolling out her plan for the mental health care system. No matter which candidate you support, it is important to discuss the rising concerns with mental health care and suicide.

Suicide is a difficult topic to talk about, but the fact remains that the numbers have increased 24 percent nationwide since 1999.

Suicides, usually fueled by underlying mental illness, are especially worrisome for the groups that are seeing the largest increases: adolescents and college students, veterans and older adults. More than 40,000 Americans die by suicide every year, making it the 10th-leading cause of death in the nation.

In Wyoming the numbers are even higher than the national average. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, suicide is the second-leading cause of death in Wyoming for people ages 10 to 34. The suicide rate in Wyoming tends to be one of the highest in the nation. The statistics are heartbreaking not only for those lives lost but also for all the people left behind.

What can you do? There are several options for free training that can help members of the community recognize and respond to someone who is struggling. The Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center’s Mental Health First Aid program is one. Another is the Prevention Management Organization’s QPR (question, persuade and refer). These programs give community members the skills to recognize the signs of suicide, ask questions and provide resources for intervention.

Small towns can present more difficulties with talking about suicide. So how can we go about discussing the issue respectfully and responsibly? Research shows that certain types of news coverage can increase the likelihood of the contagion phenomenon, especially in young people.

Media coverage and social media, if not used responsibly, can cause harm. They can also be effective tools to correct myths or misperceptions and encourage people at risk to seek help. Speaking out is critical to prevention but should always be done carefully and in a way that is respectful to people who have experienced a loss to suicide.

Education plays a crucial role for communities in preventing suicide and eliminating the stigma surrounding mental illnesses. Articles about suicide can educate readers about risk factors, warning signs and local resources for intervention. In addition, there is much more to understand about why people choose suicide as an option.

Many families or loved ones may blame themselves or feel judged by others. Education may provide interventions and understanding to not only minimize risk but also be respectful to the people who are affected by suicide. Those talking about suicide should be sensitive to tone, content and language. Responsible discussion should avoid judgment — intentional or implied — when reporting the full story and should also include education about suicide prevention.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has a few recommendations for sharing a personal story in public or in the media. The guide encourages including referral numbers and information about warning signs. Providing information on local prevention efforts and activities can have positive effects.

Without a doubt, discussions about suicide should be happening throughout our community. At the same time there should be a focused approach to overall community-based mental health care to address the underlying mental illness issues.

Several organizations and individuals are working as part of the Teton County Suicide Prevention Coalition on initiatives to provide information, support, counseling, training and prevention programs. Contact the Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center, 733-2046, or the Teton County Prevention Management Organization, 264-1536, for details or to get involved.

Warning signs to watch for include these:

• Threats of suicide, talking about suicide or wanting to die.

• Preoccupation with death, dying or suicide.

• Increased alcohol and drug use.

• Perception of being a burden to others.

• Increased anxiety, agitation or aggression.

• Hopelessness, no sense of purpose or reason to live.

• Isolation from friends and family.

• Rage or uncontrolled anger.

• Impulsivity or risk-taking behavior.

• Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.

• Sleeping too little or too much.

If any of these thoughts and behaviors apply to you or someone you know, seek assistance or advice by contacting a mental health professional, the Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center’s crisis line at 733-2046, the national suicide prevention hotline at 800-273-TALK, or 911.


Deidre Ashley is executive director of the Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center. She is a licensed clinical social worker and has a master’s degree in social work.