Sept. 8-15, 2019 is National Suicide Prevention Week. Each year, 47,000 Americans die by suicide. For every person who dies by suicide, 25 people attempt suicide. That’s 1,175,000 people who are in so much pain they feel they can do nothing but die to make their pain go away. With the United States population hovering around 327 million people, it seems this affects about one-third of the population. That’s a lot of pain.
Since my daughter died by suicide in 2016, I have researched and obsessed over what we could have done differently. I have found no answers. I feel like we did everything we could. This is why I’m a proponent of “brain research” (research to develop a biological cure for suicide). Today, though, I came across an article by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention that listed protective factors for suicide prevention. The No. 2 factor on the list as a way to decrease suicidal thoughts is to have “Positive connections to family, peers and community”. When I read this, I realized that there is something we can all do everyday and that one thing is to help form connections.
I have seen research results like this in the past as well, but somehow today it really resonated with me. People who feel connected to other people are less likely to take their own lives. Connecting with other people can make the difference. Isolation and a feeling of not belonging put people at greater risk of feeling suicidal. (To be clear, this is not a “cure” for suicide. It’s a way that’s been proven to help alleviate feelings of isolation which may otherwise lead to suicide.)
Most young people are starting school this time of year. As we all do that, I have a bold request. I am asking each of you to take this on as your personal mission. Go out into your world and be a beacon of kindness, inclusion and connection. Find a person who is alone and make friends with them. Be the one who greets others, looks them in the eye and smiles. The one who asks them how they are and really wants an answer. If you are a student, be the one who seeks out the lonely kid and sits with them in the lunch room. The one who walks down the hall with someone different — someone you see normally walking alone. Be the person who sits with someone who’s alone on the bus. Make someone’s day. Find something in someone every day that you admire. Compliment them. Tell someone you appreciate them. Say thank you. Ask someone who is busy if you can help them. Pay it forward. Text someone just to ask, “Hey, how are you?”
Above all, do something to include someone. Do something to help them feel connected. Include them in your circle. Make your world bigger and include more people. I read this today, as well: “At the end of the day, I’d rather be excluded for who I include, than be included for who I exclude”. And you never know, you could save a life.