Trigger Warning: this article discusses the sensitive topic of suicide and self-harm. If you are in need of immediate support, please visit The Lily-Jo Project’s “More Help” page to find the most suitable support for your local area.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month in the United States, and according to the New York times, over 44,000 Americans committed suicide in 2020. Another harrowing statistic is that an estimated 9.3 million Americans experience thoughts of suicide each year.
Despite efforts to destigmatize mental health over the past decade, suicide still remains a large problem not only in the United States, but in other countries as well. Here are some global statistics to be aware of.
- 4,902 suicides were completed in the U.K.
- Men are 4X more likely to commit suicide compared to women.
- Globally, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among young people ages 15-29.
So, how do we really lower the number of those lost to suicide each year? I propose we call on the village. While individual therapy, crisis lines, and inpatient facilities are very important, we must take a step back to have a better look at how one might get to that point in the first place.
Here are some areas where, as communities, we can work to improve living conditions, and, in turn, lower the number of lives lost to suicide and mental illness each year.
4 Community Approaches to Prevent Suicide
Education on Suicide
A well-meaning person once said to me, “If they talk about it, they aren’t really going to do it. They just want attention.” Another statement I’ve heard is, “If you ask a person if they are thinking about suicide, you’ll put the thought into their heads.”
Both of these statements are FALSE.
Research has shown that many people do give “signs” that point to suicide before the act is carried out. They may talk about “after I’m gone,” or become preoccupied with death, or give away possessions. Signs are definitely present. It is also not possible to make someone consider suicide if that was not somewhere in their brain to begin with.
However, being direct (asking, “Are you thinking about suicide?”) and asking the person if you can help them get help may very well prevent the act from being carried out. Other tips on how to speak with someone who opens up to you about suicide include:
- Tell them “thank you” for sharing their feelings with you
- Encourage them to seek support
- Listen to them, and try to help them understand their feelings
- Help them think of ideas for self-care
- Only offer support that you feel comfortable giving.
Organizations to Support
One of the best ways to show your support for suicide prevention is by donating and engaging with charities and nonprofits working to solve the problem. Here are some wonderful organizations that work tirelessly to prevent suicides worldwide and at the local level.
- International Association for Suicide Prevention (Global)
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (United States)
- National Institute of Mental Health (United States)
- Samaritans (United Kingdom)
- Mind (United Kingdom)
Programs Designed to Strengthen Families
Often, a person who attempts suicide does so because he or she feels hopeless and alone. I, too, have battled these feelings. But my tribe shows up to surround me with love when this happens.
Generational trauma occurs not because families want to keep repeating mistakes of previous generations, but because they literally do not have the tools in their toolbelts to do things differently.
Things like support groups, classes, and learning programs can provide families with the tools they need to resolve conflict, better manage stress, and strengthen their bonds with one another. By strengthening families from the ground up, we can help to build the critical support systems necessary for preventing suicidal thoughts from becoming suicidal actions.
Organizations to Support
Here are a few global and local organizations that focus on strengthening families and communities.
- Strengthening Families Program (Global)
- SOS Children’s Villages (Global)
- Lift (United States)
- Family Action (United Kingdom)
- Strengthening Families and Children (United Kingdom)
The National Health Care for the Homeless Council (2018) affirms that suicide rates are up to ten times higher for those experiencing homelessness than those who are not experiencing homelessness.
Affordable housing must be available first and foremost, not after those in need meet certain requirements. Those who are homeless often struggle to secure a job due to the fact that they do not have access to a shower, toiletry items, or a place to do their laundry. This makes it extremely difficult to overcome the situation, and it can cause negative thoughts and feelings of hopelessness to spiral. By putting a dent in the housing crisis and making affordable housing more accessible, we can help to lower the suicide rate.
Organizations to Support
There are a number of charities working to create sustainable solutions for the housing crisis – here are a few to consider supporting.
- Habitat for Humanity (Global)
- National Affordable Housing Trust (United States)
- National Alliance to End Homelessness (United States)
- Joseph Rowntree Foundation (United Kingdom)
- Sanctuary Housing Association (United Kingdom)
According to FeedingAmerica.org (2020), more than 38 million people experienced hunger in the United States in 2020. Oklahoma, the state where I live, ranks in the top five states in the nation for food insecurity.
Food does so much more than just fill our bellies…it literally fuels the neurons that help keep us mentally healthy. Without it, individuals are at a much higher risk of experiencing suicidal thoughts and feelings of hopelessness.
Community measures that help make food resources more accessible to those in need have been shown to be effective in improving mental health, and in turn, lowering the suicide rate. Places like food banks, food pantries in schools, community gardens, etc. are lifesavers for those in need and they truly address the issue in an effective way.
Organizations to Support
Here are a few organizations working to end world hunger – consider supporting them through donations, volunteering, or raising awareness of their work.
- Action Against Hunger (Global)
- Feeding America (United States)
- Meals on Wheels (United States)
- Trussell Trust (United Kingdom)
- Feeding Britain (United Kingdom)
Suicide is not an easy topic to discuss. It tends to be a trigger for many that have lost a loved one in this manner. However, NOT talking about it keeps the stigma surrounding it firmly intact. Be brave. Change the conversation. Make getting help for mental health issues, food or housing insecurity, getting help to develop healthy behaviors whin your family, etc. as normal as going to the doctor for a cold. This, LJP family, is how we promote real and lasting change.
Finally, we all need our support system. The Lily-Jo Project has a wonderful online learning platform and FB community with information for parents and those that work with youth. I moderate the group, and we would love to have you join. You can request to join here – looking forward to seeing you there!
More on Suicide and Self-Harm
If you found this article helpful, check out these other resources provided by The Lily-Jo Project.
- The Lily-Jo Project’s Resource on Self-Harm
- What to Do When You Think You Might Be Suicidal
- We All Have Urges – Breaking the Stigma of Self-injury
Feeding America. (2021). Facts about Hunger in America. Retrieved from https://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america
Nasir, R. and Johns, E. (2021). Quarterly suicide death registrations in England. Retrieved from https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/quarterlysuicidedeathregistrationsinengland/2001to2019registrationsandquarter1jantomartoquarter4octtodec2020provisionaldata
National Health Care for the Homeless Council. (2018). Suicide and Homelessness. Retrieved from https://nhchc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/suicide-fact-sheet.pdf
Rabin, R. (2021). U.S. Suicides Declined Overall in 2020 but May Have Risen Among People of Color. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/15/health/coronavirus-suicide-cdc.html
Suicide Prevention Resource Center. (2020). Communities. Retrieved from https://www.sprc.org/settings/communities
About the Author: Brandy Browne
Brandy Browne is a care coordinator for a local mental health agency in the United States, as well as a family coach and blogger for UnStuck (www.unstucks.com) – her family coaching service aimed at helping families develop positive habits and breaking the cycle of generational trauma and poverty.
Her education is in early and elementary education, and she also has a masters degree in parenting and child/adolescent development. Brandy is a wife to her high school sweetheart of fifteen years, and together they share three children, aged ten, seven, and five. In her free time, she enjoys reading, gardening, writing, and distance running.