Warning: This column contains content regarding suicide and mental health.
September is National Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. In a country where deaths by suicide have increased by 7.6% in the past two years (5% in 2021 and 2.6% in 2022), it is crucial to observe this month and all of its implications properly. Raising awareness and prevention measures take more than just marking the calendar; engaging in proper conversation while using appropriate and accessible language will promote meaningful change.
Cultivating a space for honest conversations about suicide with family, friends and even strangers can save lives. Despite popular belief, communicating with someone who has thoughts of suicide will not encourage suicidal tendencies. In fact, the Nevada Office of Suicide Prevention website claims that “fears shared are more likely to diminish,” and “the first step in encouraging a person with thoughts of suicide to live comes from talking about those feelings.”
While it is human to not want to remind someone of their negative feelings, suicidal thoughts are so consuming that the victim will experience them whether they have an outlet to speak with or not. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 90% of Americans believe the nation is facing a mental health crisis. However, it is probable that a large portion of them either need an outlet or have the opportunity to be the outlet in someone else’s life.
When talking about suicide, language matters. Using terms like “commit” completely criminalizes suicide in the subconscious mind. When words that are associated with robbery and murder are used to describe people’s mental health struggles, stigmas are created. As a result, many proper organizations have adopted person-first language, which translates outdated phrases into phrases such as “someone died by suicide” or “someone experiences suicidal thoughts.”
Social media recognition is not as important as therapy and medication for those with thoughts of suicide, but it deescalates stigmas and normalizes conversation. For those with internalized stigmas, seeing posts, graphics and affirmations about suicide and mental health awareness may help them feel less alone and not experience the shame that some still associate with suicide.
Searching hashtags like “#suicidepreventionmonth” and “#suicideawareness” on Instagram results in solely English posts with the occasional Spanish post. While other countries most likely have better health care and more equal access to therapy and medication, there is a heavy American social media presence surrounding suicide. Suicide does not exclude anyone. People anywhere can experience mental health issues, and they deserve to feel as seen and heard as those in the U.S., though there is serious work to do here as well. However, having a dedicated month is an impressive step toward change compared to the globally acknowledged World Suicide Prevention Day, which was Sept. 10 this year.
Suicide is not an easy topic to approach, but it is possible with the correct language and proper access to conversation. We all have the power to offer someone a little relief and, in turn, be offered the same relief if we need it.
The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline (formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) offers 24/7 call, text and chat access to trained crisis counselors who can help people experiencing suicidal thoughts, substance use and/or mental health crises or any other kind of emotional distress. People can also dial 988 if they are worried about a loved one who may need crisis support. This disclaimer was provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Layne Rey is a sophomore studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnist do not reflect those of The Post. What are your thoughts? Let Layne know by tweeting her @laynerey12.