In January of this year I received an unanticipated phone call. My sister’s husband had taken his life. He left behind a wife and two young children. Our lives are forever impacted by this tragedy, but our family is not alone. As a society, we need to start talking about suicide.
There are many reasons why we don’t. We are afraid that in talking about it we might encourage it. We are afraid that there is a stigma attached to it. We are afraid that people will judge us.
In 2015, 43 people in the Tri-Cities died by suicide. Ten of them were only 15-24 years old. This past summer alone, we lost two teens within days of each other. We need to stop being afraid and start talking about it.
Suicide is undeniably on the rise. According the Washington State Department of Health, more than 1,100 Washingtonians died by suicide in 2014. That's nearly 16 deaths per 100,000 people, up from 14 per 100,000 in 2011. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among Washington teens and young adults.
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A lot of us are wondering why. What is it that we’re missing as a society? Is it that we’re just not here for each other anymore? Is it the newfound role of social media?
While talking to my children about my challenges growing up, one of them said, “You don’t understand the pressure we’re under today.” Admittedly, their world is different. It’s a social media-created idealistic, perfect bubble. There is pressure to appear on social media as if everything is perfect all the time with so-called “friends and followers” posting about their latest obnoxiously expensive designer bag, pretty painted toes against white sandy beaches and food pictures that would make a master chef jealous.
I don’t see posts of bad-hair days, a failed exam or the struggle to get out of bed. I’m not trying to be a downer, and maybe therein lies part of the problem. We want to see the perfect world, but that’s just not reality. In focusing on the perfect we have lost sight of the real. We have become a society that constantly creates feelings of inadequacy.
In a world where social media rules, we’ve lost sight of meaningful connections.
I’m very grateful to receive texts/chats/tweets/posts from family and friends; it’s a glimpse into their special moments. However, my heart is full when I hear their voice, whether it’s a voice of sadness or happiness.
Other people need to hear a caring voice too. The Youth Suicide Prevention Program is breaking the silence. YSPP works with schools in the Tri-Cities — helping to teach youth good coping skills essential for times of crisis, and how to help a friend who is suicidal.
“Most often a youth is going to go to a peer and not an adult for help,” says Mark Lee, YSPP’s Tri-Cities field coordinator. “So we need to teach youth how to help their friends.”
I am working with other legislators to see what we can do to aid in suicide prevention. There are ways you can make a difference as well. To schedule suicide-prevention training for your school, email Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn the warning signs for suicide. You can find them on www.yspp.org. We need to recognize signs of emotional distress as easily as we recognize signs of physical distress.
If you think someone might be suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. If the person is in an immediate, life-threatening situation, call 911 right away.
Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, is vice president pro tempore of the Washington State Senate, where she represents the 8th Legislative District.