Saving a Life Starts with You


September is National Suicide Prevention Month, when mental health organizations and individuals emphasize raising awareness, supporting, and providing resources to those struggling with suicidal thoughts. Many are committed to give hope, ease pain, and reduce the number of individuals lost to suicide each year.

In 2020, approximately 46,000 people died by suicide: one death every 11 minutes. An estimated 12.2 million people thought about suicide, 3.2 million people made plans to commit suicide, and 1.2 million people attempted suicide, reflecting an approximately 33-percent increase in suicide deaths in the past two decades. Sadly, the actual numbers may be much higher.

These statistics are not just numbers in a report; they are friends, family, and colleagues. They are individuals who share in life’s highs and lows, the joys and the pain. They are people who need support to get through their struggles and who need to know that they are not alone in this world.

Many of us know people who have struggled or continue to struggle with suicidal thoughts, and although we may want to help, those intentions may be hampered by a lack of resources or limited knowledge of the problem. To give meaningful help to those in need, we must understand why people feel suicidal and then have viable solutions for them.

Some of the reasons people may consider taking their own lives include losing a loved one, experiencing or previously experiencing physical and sexual abuse, and struggling with sexual and gender identity. It is important to remember that mental illness is not visible and may not exhibit outward signs but can cause tremendous inward pain and turmoil for an individual. People with depression are at a higher risk of experiencing suicidal thoughts. Suicidal thoughts can stem from one or multiple factors, so it is essential to recognize there is no clear-cut cause for taking your own life; being alert to the signs in all situations is crucial.

If you are struggling, reaching out to a friend, a family member, or a professional can help. You can also call the suicide hotline for help any time, day or night. If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, there are people who want to help.
Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Online lifeline crisis chat:

The signs of someone contemplating suicide can be as varied as the risk factors. The signs include extreme sadness or mood swings; personality changes; withdrawal from others, especially loved ones; perceived dangerous or self-harmful behavior; and verbal communication of suicidal intentions.

People of all ages and backgrounds can experience suicidal thoughts throughout their lives; however, suicide rates vary by race or ethnicity, age, and other factors, such as location. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the groups with the highest rates of suicide are non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native and non-Hispanic White populations. Other groups that show higher rates of suicide include veterans, people who live in rural areas, workers in industries such as mining and construction, and young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, or other.

Suicide can be prevented. We can support those with suicidal thoughts by learning the risk factors and warning signs as well as the symptoms of mental illnesses such as depression. Individuals who receive support from friends and family and have access to mental health services may be less likely to commit suicide than those who feel isolated.

Making it acceptable and normal to talk about mental health and checking in with others who may be struggling is key to saving lives. Having someone to talk to and knowing someone cares can make a difference in a person’s well-being. Suicide prevention is a top priority for the U.S. Air Force and mental health organizations across the country. “One suicide is too many,” said Brig Gen Claude Tudor, Air Force integrated resilience director. “Our forces and families, like most Americans, experienced many stressors related to the pandemic and loss of connections.”

Stress and loss of connection are two of the many reasons the Air Force adheres to the suicide prevention strategy of “connect, detect, protect, and equip.” Leaders are encouraged to recognize and address the signs of someone facing difficulties and struggles, along with empowering loved ones to do the same.

Suicide is a serious issue. The good news is that it is preventable, and there are steps we can take to comfort and strengthen those who are having suicidal thoughts. With the help of family, friends, and professionals, those struggling with mental health issues can recover and live rewarding, fulfilling lives.