The awareness dates this fall including National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and World Mental Health Day are opportunities for us to better understand mental health issues, suicide and the actions we can all take to prevent suicide and distress. First, the good news –there are things we can all do to help ourselves, our families, friends and communities. The more difficult news is that, despite all we’ve learned and the advances we’ve made, suicide rates have continued to rise over the past 15 years, and the rates of suicide among young people in the USA are increasing more quickly than the rates among older adults.
The Jed Foundation (JED) team and our supporters are on the front lines of protecting emotional health and preventing suicide among teens and young adults. Data on suicide from The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is helping us better understand approaches we can take to protect our young people.
- First, they note that, contrary to commonly accepted wisdom, more than half of the people who died by suicide did not have a known mental health condition like depression or anxiety disorder (either because they died not having a condition or never received care in the mental health system).
- Second, they found that, independent of any health problem, several types of life stresses increased risk for suicide including: relationship problems, physical health issues, substance misuse, job/financial/housing problems, and criminal or legal programs.
What does that mean?
It means that while mental health care is a critical part of the solution, we need to take a broader public health approach. We need to increase our resiliency and ability to deal with life’s challenges, and we need to create stronger support networks and safety nets.
This new data supports JED’s Comprehensive Approach in our work with campuses and communicating directly to young people.
So, why are we seeing an increase in youth suicide and what actions can we all take to prevent losing more young lives?
A number of mental health experts are questioning whether the increased time spent on phones, digital devices and social media during the past 15 years has contributed to these trends and there is emerging research to support this suggestion. It appears that, when young people spend more time online instead of participating in person to person activities, it may raise their risk for depression and suicidal behaviors.
Social media and our digital lives might be part of the problem, but can it also create opportunities for protecting emotional health and preventing suicide among teens and young adults?
We want to capitalize on those opportunities and events like National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month to promote the simple actions we can all take to help ourselves and each other. Here are three things we can do to help prevent suicide.
1. Understand and Promote Online Support Systems:
In the UK, the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) did a study to examine how young people were using online resources and social media to learn and talk about mental health. They found that mental health is a significant topic for discussion among young people, but that there were insufficient efforts by clinical resources to attempt to actively engage young people in direct conversation online. Young people are so integrated in their digital lives, that it may be more likely they would reach out for help using that medium. In the US, both Crisis Text Line and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline have significant online presences and provide direct services to those in urgent need of support. We need to raise awareness of these easily accessible resources.
- Take Action: Use your social media to let people know they can text CONNECT to 741741 or call 800-273-TALK (8255)(in the United States) for a free, confidential chat with a trained counselor 24/7.
2. Change the Conversation:
When we hear or read about suicide deaths, especially when they involve young people, it’s natural to want to communicate our sadness, anger or confusion online. How we communicate about suicide can have a positive or negative impact on others who may be struggling and feeling hopeless.
- Take Action: It’s critical that we all understand the right ways to talk about suicide. A new resource from Orygen, The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health in Australia gives guidance for young people on how to safely talk about suicide online.
3. Look for Warning Signs Online, Take Action Offline:
While social media can negatively impact emotional health, it also creates a window to look for warning signs in members of our online communities. If we notice changes in the way our friends are behaving or interacting online, or see signs that someone is struggling with life stresses like relationship problems, physical health issues, financial struggles, we shouldn’t ignore them.
- Take Action: When you see something concerning online, take a moment to reach out offline. Phone calls and in-person visits are powerful ways to cut through the digital clutter and offer support.
JED, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Ad Council partnered on a campaign to encourage young people to reach out to friends who might be in emotional distress and help them know how they can be a supportive friend. Seize the Awkward offers specific ways to start conversations with friends who may be struggling.
In addition, other major organizations are using their online influence to prevent suicide. has developed and continues to expand their resources for identifying and responding to users who may be at risk. And as more players have recently spoken up out about their mental health the NBA created a website – nbacares.com/mindhealth – dedicated to raising awareness about mental health.
While there are potential risks and problems associated with web-based content and social media, there are ways we can use our digital voice and take actions online and offline to make a positive difference. We hope you’ll share these actions with your online community.
Need help now? Text 741741 or call 800-273 TALK (8255) for 24/7, free confidential support. Visit jedfoundation.org/help to learn more about mental health, available resources and what to do if you’re worried about yourself or someone else.
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