Learning to talk about suicide
If you’re having suicidal thoughts, there are people who want to help you. You can speak to someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). You can also find help from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. If you’re a veteran in crisis you can contact the Veterans Crisis Line. You’re not alone!
Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, and it comes at a time when suicide is up in the United States. Roughly 130 people take their own life each day in the U.S. including 20 Veterans. Suicide is now the tenth-leading cause of death in the U.S. and the second-leading cause of death among 10-to-35-year-olds. For every one of these deaths it’s estimated another 135 people mourn and grieve.
The pandemic has made matters worse. COVID-19 conditions have been described as a breeding ground for mental health disaster and a “perfect storm for suicide mortality” due to factors like increased economic stress, social isolation and barriers to mental healthcare. Recent data from the CDC suggests a quarter of young adults have seriously considered suicide and that stress, depression, anxiety and substance abuse are way up during the pandemic (Studies also show early detection is important, so parents in particular should be on alert for warning signs).
None of this makes the tragedy of suicide any easier to talk about, but renewed calls to destigmatize are reverberating. For example, The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's Wellbeing in the Workplace pledge, designed to prioritize mental health in corporate America, has been signed by leaders from many top companies and the Department of Veterans Affairs. To learn more we welcome Melissa Lee Dueñas, a Sr. Vice President at Leidos and U.S. Air Force Veteran, who recently signed the pledge on behalf of Leidos.
Why is suicide so hard to talk about?
Dueñas: Death is always uncomfortable, but suicide comes with certain attitudes, judgments and assumptions that need to change in our culture and military culture in particular. There’s an old attitude that has survived that treats mental health as something that should only be talked about in dark corners. In fact our mental wellbeing should be something we all feel comfortable caring for and discussing.
The root causes of suicide are also hard to understand. It often involves a complex set of variables like trauma, chemical imbalance, finances, relationships and so on. And suicide is just one symptom of mental illness which can manifest in different ways as well like substance abuse, compulsive behavior or hurting yourself. So many people struggle with these things but they’re preventable and we need to talk about how to make improvements.
Melissa Lee Dueñas
If you're struggling with thoughts of suicide, you're not alone! There are people who want to help you. Keep going and get help.
Why is the Veteran community hurting in particular?
Dueñas: Often there are factors involving PTSD. Soldiers are trained to march on in the moment of duty. That’s obviously important in a warzone but not back home when it comes to your mental health. Often Veterans don’t know enough about the dangers of PTSD, their risk of mental illness and the resources available to them.
Other times Veterans take off the uniform and struggle to find meaning in their daily civilian lives. It’s a transition all Veterans go through, but we’re all different and react to things differently. We have different coping mechanisms in times of stress and difficulty. It’s okay. That doesn’t make people weak or strong. It just means some folks need certain resources and other folks need different resources. Some Veterans excel in transition because they have all the resources and champions to help them. I was fortunate to have a great support structure, but not everyone has that. That’s why it’s important for us to turn around and pull up the people who are struggling.
In general, a lot of Veterans feel forgotten which makes me sad. For a lot of Veterans there’s a feeling that they did their service and were kicked to the side. Despite a lot of good efforts this is a prevalent theme when you talk to Veterans in need. So for a lot of us it’s really important that this generation of Veterans be there to take care of the previous generations of. We want these folks to know they aren’t forgotten, and we want to give them a support structure to fall back on. When someone is able to find employment and provide for their family after they leave the service, they’re more likely to find the meaning they’ve been looking for to keep going, which is one reason Veteran employment is so important.
Why is the stigma of suicide so harmful and how can we fight it?
Dueñas: We want to help make this a topic that isn’t off limits. We don’t want mental illness to make anyone feel ashamed. It’s about teaching this to our employees and readers. It’s acknowledging that it’s okay to struggle and ask for help. Mental healthcare is healthcare, and we want people to know about resources available to them. I believe initiatives like the PREVENTS program and Wellbeing in the Workplace will continue that momentum toward making the topic of mental healthcare as mainstream as getting your healthcare ID card.
What would you say to someone reading this who is having suicidal thoughts?
Dueñas: You’re not alone! There are people who want to help you. Keep going and get help. You can speak to someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). You can also find help from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. If you’re a veteran in crisis you can contact the Veterans Crisis Line.