Statistics on suicide show that it has become the second leading cause of death in ages 15-24 years old, taking 12 lives every day in just the state of California. 55 lives were lost in 2017 in Santa Barbara County alone, according to Eric Nelson, Director of Counseling and Psychological Services at Westmont. But even as these statistics are rising, so are the efforts to raise awareness following suit. Dedicating the month of September to suicide prevention is one such effort.
Nelson spoke to the Horizon about two particular leading factors of suicide saying, “Our adolescents are experiencing more pressure from an earlier age and while in ways this increased involvement has been helpful, in others it just adds to the pressure.” Nelson also spoke to the effects of social media: “the more people use social media, the less they feel about themselves. There is this drive to show the best side of yourself, and people don’t want to address the hardships that all of us go through or the mental health disorders that some of us might face.”
While the factors are complicated, as stated by Nelson, the way in which to respond might not be. Rather than being mere bystanders, students should feel empowered to respond. Nelson commented, “It is one thing to be aware of suicidal warning signs, but it is another thing altogether to respond to them.” He suggested that understanding the signs is vital to understanding how to respond. Some of these signs include high anxiety, apparent depression, a desire to withdraw, and feelings of isolation and hopelessness. He also spoke to a common misunderstanding that should be avoided: If you ask someone about suicide, then they are going to be more likely to end their lives. Refuting this claim, Nelson argued, “It can actually make someone who is struggling feel like someone else cares,” when they might otherwise be in a desperate and lonely state.
So while the subject of suicide has a “general stigma around it,” Nelson advocates for the normalization of talking about it, giving appropriate concern and attention to where it is due. September, as suicide prevention month, creates a forum to discuss the topic of suicide, raise awareness, speak up about struggling with suicidal thoughts, or merely reach out to a friend who may be experiencing these thoughts.
The Santa Barbara community is doing exactly this. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention hosted a walk last week on Sept. 8. Called “Out of the Darkness”, this walk raised over $22,900 for new research and supporting survivors of suicide attempts. In addition to the walk, the Santa Barbara Psych Association hosted a six-hour training event on Sept. 14 to inform health providers, teachers, and community members how to respond to suicide. The president of this organization has published serveral articles in the Santa Barbara Noozhawk and the Santa Barbara News Press on the topic of suicide in recent years.
This month is an opportunity to join the campaign for change. Abandon the general stigma about mental illness, avoid marginalizing people who experience suicidal ideation, and feel empowered to respond.