September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. We’re doing a series of posts this month to encourage conversation around what many have seen to be a taboo subject.
Death is an uncomfortable subject and death by suicide even more so. When someone takes his/her life, family members and loved ones oftentimes feel shame and disgrace. The cause of death may be hidden, and loved ones may be reticent to share their feelings surrounding the death. Too often the feelings of shame and stigma prevent them from talking openly.
Yet recent events in popular culture have brought the discussion of suicide into public discourse. Many people are infatuated with the 2015 Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen. A show about teenage suicide is an unlikely hit, but audiences flock to the theater, even though they are aware of the heavy nature of the performance. Many have shared how the story motivated them to reach out and get help (watch stories here and here). Likewise, the 2017 show 13 Reasons Why, which follows the story of a high school girl who commits suicide, has struck a chord among Netflix viewers. Both shows raise important questions about mental illness and the battle many face with suicide.
The deaths of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade earlier this summer have also placed the issues of suicide and mental illness front and center. News stories covering these celebrity deaths have led to a larger discussion in suicide prevention and provide an opportunity to start conversations with family, friends, and co-workers. Many articles provide information about the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the hope that those contemplating taking their lives will reach out for help.
What can we learn from these instances? Raising awareness about suicide and taking some of the stigma out of its discussion matters. As a society, we still tiptoe around the issue and would benefit from taking away the hushed tones when we talk about death by suicide. We need to stop being uncomfortable around families who have lost their loved ones this way and provide a safe place to have a conversation. We need to be direct and ask the people we love if they are thinking about taking their life and offer to guide them in getting help if they answer, “yes.”
Knowing what to ask, what to do and where to go is a good start when you want to be a resource for others or yourself. With suicides on the rise, arm yourself with ways you can start the conversation. The Broadway “Dear Evan Hansen” has teamed up with Seize the Awkward to provide helpful conversation starters (see image below). The QPR Institute, an organization that works in suicide prevention, recommends three steps: Question, Persuade and Refer. Starting conversations like these might just help save a life from suicide.
What steps is your community taking to begin the discussion of suicide prevention? Share your responses in the comments section below.
By Nancy Weil
OGR Member Resources Director
Nancy develops and manages OGR’s many member benefits and programs. She has been working, writing and speaking in funeral service for over thirteen years. She is a nationally known speaker and founder of The Laugh Academy. Nancy has received Certifications as a Laughter Leader, Grief Management Specialist, Grief Support Professional, Soul Injury Ambassador, and Funeral Celebrant.