Bootstraps are not enough
Nevada has a rather sordid history when it comes to suicide, with decades of experience leading the nation in the worst rates of suicide. But after the creation of the Nevada Office of Suicide Prevention and the implementation of a statewide suicide hotline, our rate started trending downward—although the latest statistics, from 2014, show a frightening rise as we tie for fifth place with Colorado, with 20.2 deaths per 100,000 residents. The national average is 13.4.
Nevada has almost three times more suicides than homicides and the highest rate in the nation for older adults. We now lose more Nevadans to suicide than motor vehicle accidents or AIDS. Last Spring, there were multiple suicides at the middle school level in Washoe County, which horrified parents and teachers as they confronted the deaths of students much too young to experience the anguish and pain that leads to a belief that suicide is the only answer.
The reasons for Nevada’s high suicide rate have been debated over the years, with many pointing to our high transiency rates, access to drugs and alcohol 24 hours a day, a pioneer libertarian attitude toward firearms, and a lack of connection to friends and family. Others cite the cowboy “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality as a poor substitute for a lack of publicly-funded mental health care in a state that is miserly in its approach to providing a social service safety net.
Utah recently reversed an upward trend in suicides and experts are citing the implementation of the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale, a six-question screening tool, in hospital emergency rooms and behavioral centers as a factor. More effective screening combined with access to mental health care are the key elements leading toward the goal of zero suicides.
The Nevada Office of Suicide Prevention is also implementing ground-breaking programs. One targets gun shops and ranges, training workers to recognize the signs of someone considering suicide. The Office also offers schools a tool-kit to better confront the aftermath of a youth suicide and reduce the risk of suicide contagion among teens by not inadvertently simplifying, glamorizing, or romanticizing a student’s death.
Instead of lamenting Nevada’s poor mental health and our many risk factors, why not focus on what you can do to prevent a suicide? Learn the warning signs, including a history of previous suicide attempts, talking about death or suicide, planning for suicide, and serious depression, often expressed as a loss of pleasure or withdrawal from activities a person previously enjoyed.
Take the warning signs seriously, since nearly 75 percent of suicidal people express their intentions in some manner to a friend or family member. Be willing to listen and encourage the person to see a physician or mental health professional immediately. Be prepared to take him or her to an emergency room or a psychiatric hospital if needed.
Most of all, don’t be afraid to talk about it. Ask whether the person is thinking about suicide or if he or she has a particular plan or method in mind. Call law enforcement if it’s urgent. Carry the number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org for more information.
If you are concerned about Nevada’s high rate of suicide, consider participating in the Out of the Darkness Community Walk to Fight Suicide this Saturday, April 23. The Walk is sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and begins at 10 a.m. at the Sparks Marina. Funds raised by the walk will support research and prevention programs. You can register at asp.donordrive.com/event/sparks/ or just show up to lend your voice and your support.
Preventing suicides is everyone’s responsibility.