Written by Teddy Chen, LCSW, PhD and Cho Ru Weng
Suicide is one of the most challenging public health problems that we face today, both as a society and as individuals. Its effects are devastating, not only to a victim’s family and friends, but also to entire communities. Suicide prevention is a goal essential to our pursuit of public health.
How big is this issue? The World Health Organization (WHO) and International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) say that over 800,000 people die of suicide every year, and the number of people who attempt suicide is likely to be 20 to 50 times greater. In NYC in 2012, intentional self-harm was the 9th leading cause of death for Asian American Pacific Islanders.
Many people who have attempted or died by suicide had underlying mental health conditions that were unrecognized and so were left untreated. Understanding, identifying and treating these disorders is crucial to suicide prevention.
Suicide is preventable.
This year, the theme of World Suicide Prevention Day is ‘Suicide Prevention: One World Connected’, which is the idea that connections are important at several levels if we are to combat suicide.
On a global level, events that raise awareness and encourage large-scale interventions—such as World Suicide Prevention Day—are great steps towards suicide prevention. As a Health Center, we promote connectedness and communication between doctors and mental health providers. We work as a team so that mental illness can be identified by healthcare providers, and patients are given the care they need, when they need it.
Finally, there’s you.
How can you help?
Reaching out to a person who you think may be contemplating suicide can be frightening. You may think that by bringing up the topic of suicide, you will tip someone over the edge. You may be afraid that suggesting professional help will offend them or drive them further away. It’s easier, most times, to just avoid the issue altogether, and hope it blows over or goes away.
The truth is, social isolation can make a person more vulnerable to suicide. By learning to recognize the signs of mental illness, reaching out to offer friendship and support to those who are suffering, and encouraging them to seek help as needed, you may help to save a life.
Whether you are seeking help for yourself or for a friend or family member, there are resources available out there. Doctors can help to evaluate the severity of mental illnesses and provide referrals to appropriate treatment. Hotlines for mental illness and suicide prevention, such as Lifenet and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, are available at any time. For urgent help, the hospital emergency rooms are equipped to provide immediate evaluation and care.
We hope that today, our community takes time to reflect on our connectedness, and how simply reaching out can make a big difference for someone who may really need it.
Written by Teddy Chen and Cho Ru Weng. Teddy Chen, LCSW, PhD, is a New York State licensed clinical social worker, and the director of the Mental Health Bridge Program at the Charles B. Wang Community Health. Cho Ru Weng is studying psychology at the University of Rochester, and is a senior care management specialist in the Mental Health Bridge Program at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center. The Bridge Program is a nationally recognized service model of providing total healthcare by integrating mental health with primary care.