Did you know that in the United States 129 individuals experience death by suicide each day? Twenty of those occur within our veteran population.
A few weeks ago, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors joined a nationwide effort to bring real human connection and vital resources to those with thoughts of suicide, proclaiming September Suicide Awareness Month.
As we discussed the proclamation and what we could do as an organization, I learned a few things that I wanted to share with you.
The first is that this an issue affecting people of all ages, from all backgrounds, and it is not going away.
My thoughts turn to veterans in our community who can be especially prone to dark thoughts and feelings of isolation as they transition back to civilian life.
I also think about another statistic I heard, that suicide is the second leading cause of death for those ages 10 to 34. Consider that for a moment. People just starting their lives are ending them, seeing no other way out of their hopelessness.
Overall, suicide rates are up 30% since 1999.
These thoughts and struggles are all around us, in people we’ve met and maybe in people we know well. We cannot turn a blind eye and we cannot stifle our voice. It is time for the stigma attached to suicide to end. To have an impact and to save lives, we must talk about this in the open and we must be vigilant.
That brings me to the second thing I learned. Death by suicide often seems like a shock to those left behind, but there are often warning signs. Among them:
• Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
• Talking about being a burden to others.
• Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
• Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.
• Sleeping too little or too much.
• Withdrawing or isolating.
• Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
• Extreme mood swings.
Beyond that, you may not realize that certain people are at greater risk to develop suicidal thoughts. Among the risk factors: mental disorders, history of trauma or abuse, loss of relationship or job and severe health issues.
The third thing I learned is that there are resources to help you or a loved one. Here are three:
• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255, suicidepreventionlifeline.org
• Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255, veteranscrisisline.net
• Be Connected (Arizona Veterans): 1-866-4AZ-VETS, beconnectedaz.org
That last resource on the list is the result of a statewide coalition, of which Maricopa County government is involved, dedicated to holistic support of our veterans. There’s a 24/7 hotline they can call, an online tool that can match them with resources specific to their needs, and connections to training and job skills that can help with that next step in life.
I also want to mention the work being done at the Military and Veteran Success Center at Luke Air Force Base. Backed by the Maricopa County Industrial Development Authority, it’s the nation’s first community-backed, case-managed support center for transitioning military, veterans and their families, and offers many of those same connections.
At the heart of this talk about suicide prevention is a simple but profound idea: What people in crisis often need most is plain and simple human connection. They need to know that they matter, that someone will fight for them, care for them or even just notice them and see their value.
In Arizona, we average one death by suicide every seven hours. As one of the state’s largest employers, Maricopa County is encouraging people to watch out for one another and to make those daily human connections that may just save someone’s life. How will you do that today?