Helping Save Live: Suicide Prevention Month every Month

The following column initially appeared during September and October, 2022 in APG of East Central Minnesota newspapers, such as the Morrison County Record.

 

Helping save lives; Suicide Prevention Month every month

 

“There is hope and there is help.” That’s what Tanya Carter explained when we talked Sept. 22. Carter is the suicide prevention supervisor at Minnesota’s Department of Health.

I have both a personal and professional interest in this. Sixty years ago, when I was a teenager, a good friend took her own life. I’ve never forgotten her.

Before discussing what is being done and can be done, let’s be clear about the situation in Minnesota. Carter told me that 2021 was the seventh straight year in which more than 700 Minnesotans took their own lives. MDH reports that the number “has steadily increased” over the last 20 years. In 2020, as in previous years, males make up about 80% of those taking their own lives. MDH also reported that each year, “there are more than 10,000 self-harm or suicidal injuries treated by health care providers.”

How about young people? MDH reports that 98 Minnesotans ages 15-24 took their lives in 2020, down from 124 the previous year. (2021 figures are not yet available.)

Young people taking their own lives has a ripple effect. It can last for decades among those who knew them.

Many people wonder, as I still do: What might my wonderful friend have accomplished if she lived? What could I have done?

Fortunately, Minnesota offers a variety of training programs for adults and high school students to help reduce the number of deaths via suicide. Some of the training programs are online, some are in person. Many are free. Many involve “role plays,” so participants actually practice the kind of discussion that is helpful with people contemplating suicide.

MDH strongly urges, “Bring suicide prevention training to your school, faith community, workplace or other community.” More information is found here.

To begin, please check the options available. After doing this, you can contact the relevant providers or write to Carter at tanya.carter@state.mn.us.

Sue Abderholden, Exec Director, NAMI-Mn

I also asked Sue Abderholden, executive director of NAMI-MN, for her advice. She suggested: “Watch for changes in behavior — are they sleeping more or less, eating more or less, no longer engaging in activities they used to enjoy, dramatic changes in grades, isolating from others, feeling hopeless or talking about death.”

Carter agreed, adding: “When you notice these things, ask about feelings and listen. Don’t just dismiss what they say.”

Abderholden also recommends: “Restrict access to things they could use to take their own life — lock things up or remove them from your home. Post 988 on your refrigerator and let your teen know they can call or text that number any time, 24/7, if they are feeling sad or suicidal.”

 

Carter hopes many more schools, as well as families and community groups, will take the training mentioned above. A future column will discuss what else schools can do.

We can reduce the number of Minnesotans cutting short their lives or injuring themselves — in turn reducing the number of people who ask themselves, “What could I have done?”

Joe Nathan, Ph.D., formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome: joe@centerforschoolchange.org or @joenathan9249