September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there is an average of 117 suicides a day–and that’s in the U.S. alone. The World Health Organization reports that suicide happens worldwide every 4o seconds, and that over 800,000 people die from suicide every year. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 15-29.
To really understand that statistic–close your eyes for a moment and think about the people instead of the numbers. Each person who takes their own life every 40 seconds has a heart that won’t beat again, a brain with no more thoughts, lips that won’t open in another conversation, a voice never to be heard in this world again, and dreams that will never be fulfilled or even known. All of the inner workings of their heads and hearts are gone. The thing that makes this knowledge almost impossible to grapple with for those left behind is a simple question: Why?
Every person who takes their own life has someone they left behind. Parents, siblings, friends, family, and significant others now have a pain that will never be taken away. Suicide is pain. It is someone trying to get rid of pain–but that pain is only passed on to the loved ones left behind. I have personally known four families who have lost someone to suicide. Age and gender don’t matter–each family has lost someone different: father, son, brother, sister. I cannot imagine the pain and sorrow that overcomes each person in their family every year. I cannot imagine the pain that is overtaking someone every 4o seconds. I cannot understand how there isn’t international outcry every day for the suicide rate that occurs in just 24 hours.
Each one of us has value. Each of us is a bright little light shining over our little inch of the world. World Suicide Prevention Day is about preventing those lights from blinking out. Today, just like every other day, you have the power to save someone’s life. It might even be your own.
The internal question now changes from “Why?” to “What can I do about it?”
It all begins with kindness and empathy, and not just for those we love. Strangers must be included. Those we dislike or even hate must be included. Kind and genuine words will can help heal someone. I believe it is our job as fellow human beings to bring as much warmth and love into the world on every given day.
It is also our job to be kind to ourselves. All of us deserve love acceptance. If we can’t cultivate that within ourselves first, how will we stand strong against a world that bruises and cuts us down easily? Practicing self-love can bring peace and comfort to the deepest core of your being.
But it is not just about kindness. Though it should be, the world isn’t always all about kindness. Look all around and you will find division, rage, and hate bending and breaking hearts. Even if every person you know is willing to be kind, there is going to be someone out there who isn’t. That’s when we must speak up and stand up to bullies. Stop that injustice. Speak for those who can’t speak. Words can either kill or save, and silence is support for the bullying present in the world.
Finally, the biggest and most important thing we must to do save lives from suicide is to have open conversations about mental health. According to The University of Washington School of Social Work, “more than 90% of people who die by suicide have a diagnosis if a mental disorder”. Mental illness is still treated as taboo by many parts of society. It is not something one can easily identify. It is not something visible, and it is easy for people to hide it within parts of themselves. Society’s stigma on acknowledging and addressing mental health issues goes hand in hand with suicide. When society is too scared to talk about and invest in mental health, no door opens up for those who might be contemplating suicide. We must open that door for each other.
Save a life by being kind to yourself and others. Save a life by standing up to a bully. Save a life by spreading awareness and talking about mental health. Keep your bright, little light alive in this world.
If you need immediate help, please refer to this index of hotlines listed by purpose and country.