In the book “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” the main character, Harry, encounters a group of creatures known as Thestrals. These horse-like creatures can only be seen by those who have witnessed death.
While it may seem a rather random example, I often associate this scene with those who have lost someone to suicide.
As loss survivors turned suicide prevention advocates (myself included), we see missed opportunities our community and its residents can take to prevent these unnecessary deaths. We offer up our experiences, knowledge, and tools to ensure other families don’t lose loved ones as we have. Like Harry Potter and the Thestrals, we survivors see the paths to avoid tragedy that often go blissfully unrecognized until others are faced with a similar crisis.
All too often, it is stigma that blinds those yet untouched by a suicide death.
“That can’t happen to me or my family,” “People who think about suicide are weak, selfish, and attention-seeking,” “I don’t know anyone who would ever think about taking their life,” “We don’t have time. It’s not a priority right now.” “Not my son.”
The truth is suicide can affect anyone. Mental health challenges like depression, which is most associated with suicide, are very common and no one’s fault. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five U.S. adults experience mental illness. Also, you never know what might happen in life that could rock you to your core, lead to the development of a mental health challenge and possibly thoughts of suicide. Things like job loss, death of a spouse or loved one, or diagnosis of a serious or terminal illness that could lead to fear of becoming a burden and loss of hope.
Plus, living in our beautiful state puts all of us at higher risk. Montana remains among the top five for the highest suicide rate in the nation and hasn’t dropped out of that ranking in four decades.
We don’t have to remain near the top of this list.
There is hope in action – at the personal level, in our relationships, in the organizations to which we belong, cultural and societal levels. With September serving as Suicide Prevention and Recovery Month, there’s no time like the present.
The Lewis and Clark Suicide Prevention Coalition is here to show you how to save lives. Consider taking one of our free courses by checking out www.lcsuicideprevention.org and encourage your employers to hold a training session for your staff.
One of the most crucial steps to preventing suicide is asking someone if they are considering it and getting them the help they need. That should also involve asking whether they have a plan on how and when they will take their lives and if there are lethal means like firearms and pharmaceuticals in the home.
A suicidal crisis is typically a temporary experience that can end soon after it arises. Because of this, preventative measures like disposing of extra or unnecessary medication, keeping firearms locked and unloaded when not in use, and being aware of other lethal household items within the home can be a beneficial deterrent. That way, if a crisis does occur, your home and loved ones are already safe.
If available, use a locked safe where the combination or key is inaccessible to those in crisis. For pharmaceuticals, it may be appropriate to keep all medications locked in a safe and limit dosages to a one-day supply.
With these steps and additional community involvement we can prevent the tragedy of suicide together.
Safer Communities Montana provides free trigger gunlocks and drug deactivation packages to anyone in Lewis and Clark County. To request materials and to learn more about Safer Communities Montana’s mission, visit www.safercommunitiesmt.org.
If you are struggling, please call the 24/7 Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or text ‘MT’ to 741-741. You’re not alone and help IS available.
Jess Hegstrom is suicide prevention coordinator for Lewis and Clark Public Health and facilitator of the Lewis and Clark Suicide Prevention Coalition.
Caroline Patterson, Lewis and Clark Public Health’s suicide prevention AmeriCorps VISTA contributed to this article.