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National Suicide Prevention Week

Updated: Sep 17, 2023

This week is National Suicide Prevention Week and sadly, deaths by suicide reached a record high in the US last year. Across our nation, someone commits suicide every 11 minutes. Suicide is now the 2nd leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 34 and the 5th leading cause for those ages 35 to 54. According to the CDC, an estimated 12.3 million American adults seriously considered suicide, 3.5 million planned a suicide attempt, and 1.7 million attempted suicide in 2021. If you, or someone you know has considered suicide, please know that this is not an isolated experience and you are not alone. Suicide is preventable and help is available.


“I am considering suicide and need help.”


If you are in immediate danger of harming yourself, get emergency help right away. Call 911 or visit your local ER.


In East Harlem, there are multiple ER options open 24 hours/7 days a week. You can go directly to the Mt. Sinai ER at 1468 Madison Ave. (101 & Madison) or Metropolitan Hospital Center at 1901 1st Ave. (99 & 2nd).


If helpful, consider using this evidence-supported scale, the Columbia Protocol, also known as the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS) as you assess yourself (you can use this to assess others as well). After completing the scale, follow the instructions in the box under the scale:


If you are not in immediate danger this moment but recognize that suicide has been on your mind, consider the following:


–As you are able, approach yourself with self-compassion. Resist shaming or guilting yourself for having suicidal thoughts but rather, treat yourself kindly as you would treat a friend in this position. Try to see yourself as someone who needs patience and care during this time.


Call or text 988, the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. This is a free, national network of local crisis centers that provides confidential emotional support to those experiencing suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Text options are available in English or Spanish and additional language options are available by request by calling 988.


–Additional resources to call, text, or chat:

  • Chat online: www.988lifeline.org/chat (Available in English or Spanish)

  • Deaf/Hard of Hearing Suicide & Crisis Hotline: Open 24/7 | Text 988 -or- Call 711 then 1-800-273-8255

  • Veterans Crisis Line Suicide & Crisis Hotline: Open 24/7 | Call 988 and press 1 -or- Text 838-255

  • The Trevor Project: A 24-hour hotline that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning young people (LGBTQI) ages 13-24 | Call 1-866-488-7386 -or- Text 678-678 | Chat online: www.thetrevorproject.org

–Arrange a safety plan for yourself:


Be prepared for a potential mental health crisis or for suicidal ideation by creating your own personalized safety plan ahead of time. You can do this on your own or with a trusted friend/family member, or your pastor or counselor.


Complete the following resource to ensure your plan is ready and accessible, should you experience a mental health crisis in the future.


Fill out the Stanley-Brown Safety Plan (link here):

–Begin meeting with a professional counselor or trusted pastor where you will have a safe, judgment-free space to unpack your suicidal processing.


–Remove firearms and other items/instruments that could be used for self harm from your environment.


–Connect with others, even if they are not professionals. Talk to someone you trust and tell them about these thoughts and feelings. If you are a believer and this feels difficult or you feel tempted to think that you are "a burden" on others, be reminded of the Christian's call to intimate and proximate community as we see in Galatians 6:2: "Bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ." You are not a burden.


–Self monitor by keeping a journal of how you are feeling and what you are thinking. As you self monitor, keep a record of if you are having more passive suicidal ideation or if you are more actively considering ending your life. Since suicidal ideation is experienced on a spectrum, rate your thoughts/feelings using a scale of 0-10 (with 0 being the lowest [more passive] and 10 being the most severe [active]). If you notice a number higher than 5 (even if just 1 day is a higher number), seek help from those you've identified on your Safety Plan, by calling the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline (or the other options), or by accessing emergency care as needed.


“I think someone I know may be considering suicide.”


The NYC.gov website has curated helpful points concerning warning signs of someone who may be suicidal and how to speak with and understand someone who may be considering suicide:


"You can help prevent suicide by learning the warning signs. The risk of suicide is greater if a behavior is new, has increased, and seems related to a painful event, loss or change.

WARNING SIGNS

The following signs may mean someone is at risk for suicide:

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves.

  • Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online or buying a gun.

  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.

  • Talking about feeling trapped, a burden or in unbearable pain.

  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.

  • Acting anxious, agitated or behaving recklessly.

  • Sleeping too little or too much.

  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves.

  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.

  • Displaying extreme mood swings.

  • Giving away possessions.

  • Saying goodbye to family and friends.

Warning signs can be different for each person.



Understand Their Feelings

People In Crisis Often Feel They Can’t:

  • Stop the pain.

  • Think clearly.

  • Make decisions.

  • See any way out.

  • Sleep, eat or work.

  • Get out of depression.

  • Make the sadness go away.

  • See a future without pain.

  • See themselves as worthwhile.

  • Get someone’s attention.

  • Seem to get control.

If Someone You Know is Thinking About Suicide

  • Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide.

  • Listen to their story. Allow expressions of feelings. Accept that they feel this way.

  • Be non-judgmental. Avoid debate about whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether feelings are good or bad or the value of life.

  • Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.

  • Let them know you care.

  • Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Seek support for yourself and the person thinking of suicide.

  • Assist the person to make a plan involving trusted people and/or professionals to help the person stay safe until they are no longer thinking of suicide.

  • Offer hope that alternatives are available but do not discount their feelings by saying things like, “you’ll feel better in no time.”

  • Take action. Remove means, such as guns or stockpiled pills."

As you seek support for the person, consider the people in their social or familial circles who would be helpful. Also, consider the person's church community, spiritual authority, and pastoral care. Bringing in others who are trustworthy and competent will be a support to the person and a support to you as well.


“Where is God in all of this?”


Throughout Scripture, various people asked (or told) God to end their lives. In Numbers 11, Moses, in a state of overwhelm said to God, "I am not able to carry all this...alone; the burden is too heavy for me. If you will treat me like this, kill me at once." In despair, Elijah (1 Kings 19) prayed, “I have had enough, Lord, take my life." Job wondered aloud to God why his life wasn't ended in the womb, before it began while Jeremiah cursed the day he was born, and so on.


If you are thinking about death for yourself, know you are not alone. Humans (and in this specific context, believers) have long pondered death as a potential way out of suffering, difficult circumstances, and/or feelings of darkness, depression, despair, and overwhelm.


Just as Scripture shows us how some of our brothers in the faith told God they were feeling so low that death would be better than life, we can tell God the same, if that is how we are feeling. Talk to God. Tell God how you feel and what you think. God is not surprised by your feelings and can handle you talking about this, even if your words are dark, bitter, or angry.


If you are not sure exactly how you are feeling, if you feel numb, or you can't formulate language that fits your experience, consider turning to the Psalms. Scan Psalm 88 where the psalmist writes verses like "I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death" and "darkness is my closest friend." In Psalm 6, David writes, "I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping." Do any of those experiences resonate with your own?


Consider the exercise of writing your own psalm to the Lord. It doesn't have to be long. Begin your psalm with an intimate address such as "My God" or "My Father." Here are some prompts to help you get started:

  • What is my complaint to bring to the Lord?

  • What are my unmet needs?

  • How am I hurting?

  • Where do I feel God is right now?

  • Where do I think God is right now?

  • What do I want from God?

  • Why am I suffering?

  • What do I believe to be true about God?

If you still have no words, that's OK. Remember to be self-compassionate. If you cannot "speak" to the Lord right now, just "be" with the Lord in stillness. Trust that God's presence is there with you. Try to see yourself in the imagery Isaiah 40 paints for us:


He tends his flock like a shepherd:

He gathers the lambs in his arms

and carries them close to his heart


Your good Shepherd-Father is carrying you close to his heart. This is where God is, in your experience–he carries you in his arms, close to his heart right now. Hold tightly to this image. You are not alone.



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A list of book resources:


A few website resources:


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