This article is dedicated to my grandfather, my mom, and anyone else who has been affected by or touched by suicide.
The music echoed through my ears, hand over my chest and eyes closed. It was one of my favorite artists, Noah Kahan, playing his song “Call Your Mom.” This song is especially close to my heart because it’s about suicide awareness and mental health, like many of Noah Kahan’s songs. This one, however, hits different.
I heard Noah Kahan live on September 15, and I haven’t been able to get the live version of “Call Your Mom” out of my head. I have a history of mental health issues in my family, and my grandfather died by suicide on July 4th of this year. I remember the shock, sadness, and disbelief that went through my mind when I found out. It is because of this that suicide prevention and awareness is so relevant to my life.
September was National Suicide Prevention Month, a month where many choose to reflect on the impact of suicide in the United States and the importance of mental health resources in a country that pushes productivity over psychological wellbeing. Once September ends and October’s fall presence makes itself known, suicide awareness is often pushed to the back burner.
Suicide killed one person every 11 minutes in 2021, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. It is also a leading cause of death.
The importance of suicide awareness is clear. It is responsible for the deaths of family, friends, and even acquaintances. Many people live in silence with suicidal thoughts daily or have experienced them at some point in their lives. What some struggle with, and the reason many might stray away from prevention and awareness efforts, is not knowing how to best advocate in their daily lives.
It can be confusing, difficult, or scary to navigate the world of suicide prevention and advocacy, and mental health advocacy overall. However, there are some relatively easy and respectful ways to get involved year-round, not just during September.
Organizations across the country are focused on mental health advocacy and education, with some specifically centering their attention on suicide. One such group is Project 99, which is based out of Murrieta, California, and focuses on educating teens and the community about suicide. They conduct trainings on how to talk to someone who is considering suicide and even lead a rock campaign, where they paint rocks with positive messages and spread them throughout the community.
As well as this, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has an Indiana specific chapter that offers several events and resources for anyone to participate in. Every year, they offer 10 “Out of the Darkness” walks around the state of Indiana to unite communities and spread awareness. Involvement in organizations and events such as these provides advocates with valuable education and training on mental health and suicide.
Beyond getting involved in organizations, it is critical to approach advocacy with care and respect, especially if you are using the story of others to shine a light on the importance of suicide prevention and awareness. Consent is always necessary before posting or sharing someone else’s story in a public or private space. Others’ mental health stories are sensitive and personal. So, ensure that person is okay with having their story told to others.
If you do have consent to share or tell others’ stories, make sure to not center yourself in their story. After all, their experiences are theirs for a reason. If you’re sharing your own story, only do so if you feel comfortable with it, not because you feel pressure to or are guilted into it.
Another way to best incorporate advocacy into your daily routine is being sure to use appropriate language surrounding suicide. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Canada created a guide to using positive language around suicide. For example, it lays out the importance of saying died by suicide/death by suicide/lost their life to suicide instead of commit/committed suicide because “commit” implies suicide is a crime or a sin and reinforces the idea that suicide is selfish and a personal choice.
Working to incorporate better, more direct language allows the stigma around suicide to be broken down. It also helps to raise awareness and advocate for more resources.
Overall, trainings, education, sharing about suicide, and changing the language around suicide is instrumental in advocating for prevention and awareness. This becomes even more important in a country such as the United States where significant stigma and stereotypes surround mental health and suicide. Be cautious and respectful when sharing others’ stories and check on those around you.
In “Call Your Mom,” Noah Kahan has a line that goes “Don’t let this darkness fool you/ All lights turned off can be turned on.” This is one of the lines that hits me the hardest. While it may seem forever, darkness is only temporary. Suicide awareness and prevention is of the utmost importance now more than ever. When and if you can, help those around you turn the light back on. Check on yourself, too, and give yourself a reason to keep going. You are not alone.
If you or someone you know is thinking of suicide, reach out to Counseling Services on the second floor of Ridgway University Center (or by phone at 812-488-2663) or call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or chat with them at 988lifeline.org. Reach out to loved ones. There is hope on the horizon.