Suicide is the conscious act of ending one’s own life.
It is often used to end pronounced emotional, psychological, or physical pain. It is sometimes a way for people to escape pain or suffering that is perceived to be overwhelming.
There is no single cause for suicide.
It most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities for someone struggling with significant mental or physical health conditions. Suicide occurs almost twice as often as murder. Each year, about 36,000 people in the United States die by suicide.
Unfortunately, death by suicide is the 10th leading cause of death; it is the 3rd leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of 15 to 24, and the 2nd leading cause of death for those 25 to 34. Additionally, the rates for suicide attempts and completions have increased for individuals between the ages of 35 to 44.
Death and dying is not a unique thought or immediate concern for many people, however, these thoughts can become troublesome and problematic when they are re-occurring. Fleeting thoughts of death are less of a problem and are much different from actively planning to end one’s own life. The risk of suicide is increased if thoughts of suicide become more and more consistent, intrusive, and persistent, or if those with suicidal thoughts/ideations have made a suicide plan.
Notably, most people who seriously consider suicide do not want to die, rather they see taking their own lives as a solution for a problem thought to be inescapable.
People who seriously consider suicide are often bombarded with feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and worthlessness. All are characteristics that can be paralyzing to the sufferer, causing them to feel as if they are unable to overcome significant problems, they are not worthy of being helped, or unable to be helped.
People who have suicidal thoughts and ideations often do not seek help because they truly do not believe they can be helped. Fortunately, this is usually not the case; many people can be helped to manage emotional, psychological, and physical stressors in a manner that can lead to the development of better coping strategies and the building of resiliency.
People who are considering suicide often are undecided about choosing life or death. With professional, compassionate help, many are able to identify a solution to their problems, develop ways of dealing with their problems, and ultimately choose to live.
The Risk for Suicide includes:
- Familial history of suicidal attempts/completion
- A personal history of attempts
- Substance or alcohol related abuse/condition
- Significant mental health condition
- Untreated mental illness
- A familial history of mental illness
- History of maladaptive coping
- Significant medical issues, chronic pain, or debilitating disease
It is important to remember anytime someone talks about suicide or about wanting to die or disappear, even in a joking manner, the conversation must be taken seriously. A suicide attempt – even if the attempt did not harm the person -also must be taken seriously. Often joking about one’s own death, disappearance, or the belief that personal challenges would end with suicide, are a cry for help.
Do not be afraid to talk to someone about suicide, especially if you believe they are considering it. Be careful never to minimize or dismiss someone’s thoughts or feelings about ending their life, rather acknowledge and validate their willingness to express these thoughts that are often difficult to disclose. It is for this reason I believe the topic of suicide should remain at the forefront of our thoughts and concerns.
Recently, I became a member of the board at HopeLine, Inc., located in Raleigh, NC. I noticed a positive correlation between the people I work with that were suffering from severe and persistent mental illness and suicide attempts/completion.
I decided to join the HopepLine board because I believe in the power of active listening, advocacy, and providing referrals to address more pronounced needs. HopeLine specializes in providing suicide and crisis intervention, supportive and non-judgmental active listening, gentle and understanding discussion of crisis resolution, and referrals to appropriate community resources. HopeLine volunteers also make daily calls to senior citizens and people with disabilities who are home-bound and living independently with little or no daily contact with others.
Here is my interview with Lauren Foster, HopeLine, Inc., Executive Director.
Dr. Bates-Duford: Tell me about how you became affiliated with HopeLine? What led you to your role as Executive Director?
L. Foster: I started as a volunteer for HopeLine in 2015, became a coordinator shortly thereafter, then Executive Director in 2017. I was always interested in mental health and well-being; in fact, I used to work for the Division of Public Health. At the time I became a volunteer for HopeLine I was considering going back to school to study mental health.
Dr. Bates-Duford: What are some of the challenges you have noticed once you became Executive Director of HopeLine?
L. Foster: As with any nonprofit, public funding has been a challenge. We continue to try and get the word out about the services provided by HopeLine and make our presence known in the community. Although HopeLine was started in 1970, we still experience challenges with keeping our presence known in the community. We also continue to struggle with securing appropriate funding to maintain our services to the community. Currently we receive funding from United Way, Governors Crime Commission, Foundation of Hope, and private donors..
Dr. Bates-Duford: Tell me about the volunteers of HopeLine?
L. Foster: HopeLine is comprised of 40 active volunteers who engage in answering the crisis line and text line. Most of our volunteers are college students or recent graduates in search of experience. We have students who are interested in genetic counseling programs, and those who were accepted into those programs following their experience as a HopeLine volunteer. We have volunteers from all walks of life and experiences that bring valuable insight into responding to crisis situations.
Dr. Bates-Duford: Can you tell me about some of the people who have reached out to HopeLine for assistance?
L. Foster: We receive calls from people from just about every background. We do have recurring callers and it is interesting whenever we have the opportunity to get to know the callers who have sought our services. Some callers actually use our services to help them process their day. One of the most memorable crisis calls I ever received came from a woman who was actively suicidal, she had cut herself before she called us. The caller also refused to disclose her location. Realizing she would not disclose her address and did not trust me, I began to build a relationship with the woman over the phone. I wanted to build her trust, and assure her there are people out there who really care about her well-being. I spoke to the caller for more than two hours when she asked me if it was ok if she called us back tomorrow. The caller and I made an agreement to speak the following day at the same time. The following day I received a call from her, she had gone to the hospital, was linked to a mental health professional, and was in the process of receiving mental health services.
Dr. Bates-Duford: Thank you for sharing such a wonderful story!
L. Foster: You are welcome. Fortunately, we are able to de-escalate crisis situations and refer people to community resources to get them help.
Dr. Bates-Duford: What are some of the things you would like to accomplish in your role as Executive Director of HopeLine?
L. Foster: I would like to see us more as a staple resource in the community, which might look like being more integrated in schools, hospitals, community, etc. I would also like to coordinate a fundraising event that people can look forward to every year and identify us as a potential resource if needed.
Dr. Bates-Duford: Is there anything else you would like to tell us about HopeLine?
L. Foster: I want to tell everyone that HopeLine does not turn away anyone. We allow callers to call us just to vent about anything from work, school family, etc. There is not any specific “level’ of crisis you would need to be in to call us. We do not give advice; we simply listen to what you have to say. Our main goal is to listen, care about you, and give support and resources. We never judge anyone with what they are going through or trivialize their experience. We want to take the stigma away from reaching out for support or services when dealing with a mental health crisis and that the individual is weak and not in control of their life experiences.
If you would like to know more about HopeLine, Inc. please visit:
https://www.hopeline-nc.org/ or call/text 919-231-4525 | 1-877-235-4525