September 11, 2019 by Sean McMahon, LHC Outreach Coordinator


September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and specifically this week is National Suicide Prevention Week. A friend of mine recently died by suicide, and since then I’ve been diving into national statistic and prevention strategies.

A month ago, I was at my desk, stumped about what to share on the Lister Hill Center’s Facebook page. This is always an involved process. I’d like to share the new Healthcare Triage video each week, but that would be redundant. I’d like to make another post about Medicaid policy changes, but I’d already made a few that month. Still deciding, I logged on and the first this I saw was a post from a former pastor of mine, someone my family has kept in touch with for nearly two decades.

Normally, when I log into Facebook to interact as the Lister Hill Center, I quickly navigate away from the home page so that I don’t bring my personal life to my work desk. However, when you see the words “my oldest son has passed away,” your heart jumps a little bit and you have to take a moment to investigate. Almost immediately I received a text from my sister to tell me the news. She was with the family. She was with them shortly after they were told that their son had taken his own life.

After a week of going through the motions, I went to be with my family and friends. We had an informal memorial; a funeral wasn’t possible just yet. After another week of going through the motions, I went back for the formal funeral service.

Just two months before my friend took his own life, I was taking a policy advocacy course at Johns Hopkins University, crafting a mock proposal (similar to UAB’s annual Global Health Case Competition) for an advocacy plan to decrease suicide rates in India. And now I’m dealing with the very real occurrence of suicide happening within my circle of friends.

NSPL Logo 2Nationwide, a staggering 47,173 people died by suicide in 2017. After adjusting for age, that’s a mortality rate of 14 per 100,000 population. If that doesn’t sound like much to you, just remember that intentional self-harm was the 10th leading cause of death that year. Alabama’s rate (16.2) is higher than the national average.

As for policies enacted to prevent suicide, include: restricting the means (tighter gun control, regulating certain medications, etc.); integrating mental health with primary care; and of mental health services. Someday we’ll find the perfect combination of policies to keep the suicide rate down, but until then there are things we can all do at the individual level to prevent suicides.

If you’re having thoughts of suicide, please take the time to call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-(800)-273-8255. To learn more about how the Lifeline operates, join this webinar on September 18.

If you want to get involved with prevention efforts, you can volunteer with the Crisis Center right here in Birmingham.

If someone reaches out to you about having suicidal thoughts, listen to them and help guide them towards seeking help. Don’t tell them everything will be fine, and don’t promise to keep it a secret. This fact sheet from the Alabama Department of Public Health has more information about how to help.