Guest columnist Randi Mazzella is a freelance writer and mother of three. She primarily writes about parenting, family life and teen issues. Her work has appeared in many online and print publications including Teen Life, Your Teen, Scary Mommy, SheKnows and Grown and Flown.
This year, over 180,000 walkers will participate in Out of the Darkness Walks across the country. These walks are organized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) in an effort to spread awareness about suicide and suicide prevention.
The walks are held in communities and on college campuses. College students and young adults are a vulnerable population. Alexis O’Brien, Public Relations Director for AFSP explains, “Mental health concerns such as depression, psychosis and alcohol and drug use are almost always present when someone dies by suicide. Many of these problems first surface after puberty which is why it is important to get the word out to young people about the signs of mental illness and about suicide prevention.”
Facts About Suicide
Over 40,000 people die by suicide every year in the United States. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for adults between the ages of 15-65 years of age in the United States. The highest risk group for suicide is middle-aged men.
According to the CDC, these are the statistics for 2014:
- Number of deaths: 42,773
- Deaths per 100,000 population: 13.4
- Cause of death rank: 10
- Number of deaths: 21,334
- Deaths per 100,000 population: 6.7
- Number of deaths: 11,407
- Deaths per 100,000 population: 3.6
- Number of deaths: 6,808
- Deaths per 100,000 population: 2.1
It is estimated that 9 out of 10 people who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental illness at the time of their death.
O’Brien says, “One of the most effective ways to prevent suicide is early intervention. Teaching young people to pay attention to their mental health and the mental health of their peers can have a huge impact.”
Why Walking Helps
The first Out of the Darkness Walk was held in 2002. The organizer was a person who had lost a loved one to suicide and wanted to raise awareness about suicide prevention. The event was named “out of the darkness” because it was held from sunset to sunrise so participants literally walked out of the darkness and into the sunlight. The name was also symbolic as the walk hopes to shed light on suicide, a topic that is often kept a secret.
O’Brien says, “Suicide is something that affects everyone. Walking is something that everyone can do. When we walk we move in the same direction. We organize walks so that everyone in every community across the nation can show their support for this important health issue.” The walks promote unity and the hope is that by walking together, people will feel less alone when dealing with suicide and other mental health issues.
Having the Conversation
There are many reasons why parents avoid discussing suicide with their teens and young adult children including:
- Confusion about what to say to the person they are worried about
- Not wanting to violate a person’s privacy
- An inaccurate fear that talking about suicide can make a person suicidal
- Too sad
Although talking with about mental health and suicide can be difficult, it is extremely important. Says O’Brien, “We know that talk saves lives. If you are concerned about someone or notice a change of any kind, check in and ask the person how they are doing and talk about what you noticed. Encourage them to see a professional and help them to get there if possible.”
Don’t be afraid to ask someone you concerned about direct questions about whether he is feeling like dying, disappearing or has thought about ending his life. O’Brien explains, “It is a misconception that talking about suicide can make a person suicidal.
Asking and listening may lead to a short-term feeling of relief and help them to feel more connected.
For more information:
To find out about walks in your area go to www.afsp.org/walk.
For suicide prevention support and resources go to www.afsp.org.
For 5 signs someone is struggling with mental health go to www.ChangeDirection.org
If you are in crisis or know someone that is, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8522.