It takes more than just health systems to prevent suicide

Many of us may not want to talk about it — but the truth is we’ve all likely been impacted by suicide and we all can play a role in tackling one of our nation’s most pressing health issues.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and rates have been on the rise in nearly every state. In Pennsylvania, suicide rates rose by 34.3 from 1999-2016. According to newly released Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, suicide is rarely caused by a single factor but instead a range of factors including mental health conditions, relationship, substance use, physical health, job, financial and legal problems. This means we need to look outside of clinical settings and broaden our support systems often found in many community settings like schools, places of worship, neighborhoods and workplaces.

As a health care system serving the Mifflin/Juniata County area, we are committed to doing our part to provide suicide-safe care inside our facility and to help build connections with the community outside of our facility’s doors.

Because we take this responsibility seriously, we have cultivated many partnerships working closely with school counselors, first responders, law enforcement officers, faith leaders, medical professionals and maybe some of you reading this article. For example, we are proud of the relationship we have forged with Juniata Valley Behavioral and Developmental Services, who collaborated with our local UCBH and Juniata Valley Crisis staff to raise awareness and prevent suicide through the local community suicide prevention task force, Healing Connections.

But we need your help too. Public opinion polls reveal that while the general public recognizes suicide as a serious issue, many people are reluctant to reach out to someone who might be struggling out of fear they might make the situation worse.

Even the smallest of actions can help someone who is struggling or in crisis make recovery a reality. When someone is feeling helpless, hopeless, alone and often in their darkest hour, it can be a daunting road to walk down without a hand to hold or an ear to listen.

Whether you’re a neighbor or a student, a family member or a friend, an employee or a supervisor, a parishioner or a faith leader, a teacher or a PTA member, you can be there for someone who may be struggling or in distress — just like you may be there for someone with a physical illness, like cancer or heart disease. Actively listening in a nonjudgmental way, offering a meal, calling to check in and helping to develop a safety plan are concrete ways to help someone work toward recovery. However big or small they may seem, these actions can help a fellow community member to feel less alone.

In recognition of National Suicide Prevention Month, join us to educate the public about the role they play in preventing suicide and, equally importantly, be there for someone who is struggling or in crisis this month — and all year round.

Here are some other helpful ways to be there:

¯ Recognize the warning signs

¯ Learn the action steps for communicating with someone who might be suicidal

¯ Share the Lifeline number (800-273-TALK) — 24/7, free, and confidential support. Military veterans may press ‘1’ for specialized care.

¯ Promote resources and services that are available

Each and every one of us can strive to be a non-judgmental shoulder to lean on, a more sympathetic ear, a supportive hand to hold by being there for one another in some of life’s most challenging moments. Only by working together — involving everyone in Mifflin and Juniata counties — can we truly address/eradicate this preventable public health issue.

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Ann Wayne is CEO/Managing Director of The Meadows Psychiatric Center.

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