Kat Olbrich, Maryland and Delaware Area Director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention discussed their mission, to reduce death by suicide. She spoke about their funding of suicide prevention and postvention research, education programs for the community about how to be smart about mental health, and their advocacy for suicide prevention and mental health on a local and national level. They also provide support for those affected by suicide. She noted that in 2017 we lost over 47,000 Americans to suicide, an average of one suicide death every 12 minutes, which makes suicide the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. It is estimated that at least 100 people are affected by every suicide and that for every suicide, there are at least 25 people that attempt to take their life. In 2017 we lost 112 Delawareans to suicide. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for youth.
She explained that suicide is a health issue just like a heart disease or diabetes with is no single cause although most people who died by suicide had an underlying mental health condition. Much of the AFSP’s advocacy work is in mental health, reducing the stigma and making it accessible and affordable to all.
We discussed warning signs, like someone talking about being a burden to others, feeling like life is not worth living, or someone explicitly mentions that they are thinking about ending their life. She asked us to pay attention to changes in behavior like someone drinking more than usual or abusing drugs, sleeping too much or too little, sudden reckless behavior, or withdrawing themselves from friends and family, changes in mood can be a hint and need to be taken seriously. Kat also spoke about ‘environment’ – if a gun or other method is available the person needs to be removed immediately.
She gave us tips on what to do when you feel like someone is at risk, even if you are not sure what is going on in your loved one’s life, you can reach out when you feel like something is off. Simply trust your gut. When you reach out, talk to the person in private, ask them directly about suicide and make sure that you listen to what they have to say. Offer them to help find a mental health professional or take them to a doctor to get an evaluation. We also discussed talking to children and teens about suicide and creating a trusting conversation.
If you are in crisis or if you are helping someone in crisis, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. This is a 24/7 free service and it is anonymous. The person on the other end can help you when you are in crisis. But they also can support the helper and provide them with information on how to best talks to someone in crisis. You can also text using the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. This as well is a free anonymous service and you will be texting with a trained professional.
She suggested the best way to support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is to join them for the October 20 Out of the Darkness Walk. The walks are a great opportunity for people who had a loss to suicide or people that have a history with mental health to learn that they are not alone and that there is hope.
Walkers wear “honor beads” that come in nine different colors, each color shows your connection to the cause. If you wear green you personally struggle with mental health and if you wear teal, you support someone struggling with their mental health. If you wear orange you lost a sibling, white is for loss of a child, or silver for first responders, military and veterans. It is a great way to connect to others that wear the same bead colors and it makes you feel less alone.
If someone is interested in volunteering with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention or attend a suicide prevention training, please visit afsp.org/delaware.