“Are you okay? Is something wrong? Can I help you?”
Those were the words that Kevin Hines wanted to hear as he stood on the Golden Gate Bridge walkway one September 25, leaning over, and looking down at the water before he launched himself over the railing.
Suicide is currently the second-leading cause of death for young people ages 10–24, which means that it’s an issue that has the potential to touch all of our lives at some point. Last month, the news reported on a 14-year-old who jumped over the controversial low rail at Hudson Yards, New York City. Cornell University students find the gorges. Suicide by veterans was yesterday's front-page article in my local newspaper.
Whether it’s a friend, a co-worker, or someone in our own family, it’s important to know how to talk about it and where to turn for help when it’s needed.
Have you been closely affected by a suicide? How did you feel? What response did you get from others?
I have. Three people now in my extended family—a teenage girl, an older man and very recently, a 20-year-old young man.
If you have not been closely affected, what is your response when you hear about someone who has died by suicide? What assumptions do you make?
WHAT MIGHT WE DO? Here’s a hopeful, true story.
It was the end of the school day and Tim, a middle schooler, was cleaning out his locker—the ‘missing’ book, the forgotten sweater, the papers, the stuff—and dropping things. Ray walked by. He did not know Tim but picked up some things, noticing he seemed upset. Ray carried Tim’s items as they walked and talked. Ray invited Tim to his house for milk and cookies. A friendship was born. Years later, after both had married and gone their separate ways, Tim wrote Ray, telling him he had literally saved his life that day, because Tim had decided to kill himself.
Conversations about suicide are important and challenging. It is easy to advertise telephone hotline numbers. These are indeed helpful—and they place the burden on the one who feels alone and feels so overwhelmed by life circumstances that they are seriously considering taking their own life.
What if we leaned into someone else’s life? What if we turned toward, not away? What if we asked, “Are you okay? Is something wrong? How about we take a walk or grab something to eat?”
What to do after a death by suicide? Ask the person’s name. Ask for a story. Hold the space and bear witness. It may not be easy for you; it is worse for their family.
Educate yourself and others about the reality of suicide and its ripple effects. Consider using these resources and begin now, during September, which is Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month.
Tedx Toronto: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1QoyTmeAYw Why we Need to Talk about Suicide. Mark Henick.
Suicide Prevention: A Mother Speaks Out. Barbara Swanston. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSy3hU5hMEQ (I heard Barbara speak. She is an administrator and facilitator in the Sister Moms Facebook community for mothers who have lost children to suicide.)
Tedx Docklands: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDLKPokHDRs The Cruelest 40 Seconds: The Growing Suicide Epidemic. Nick Bracks.
TEDx Coeurdalene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79hgDk_emE0 Troy’s story: Removing the Stigma about discussing Suicide. Saprina Schueller.
Tedx Albany: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3FKQNSYoxw You’re Still Here: Living after Suicide. Amy Biancolli.
Documentary clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MUvQW_rTYY Suicide: The Ripple Effect. Kevin Hines survives.
Many more on YouTube.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. https://afsp.org/suicide-statistics/
Top 10 Suicide Prevention Organizations and Resources: https://www.bark.us/blog/top-10-suicide-prevention-resources/