Suicide is the third leading cause of death in Larimer County since 2013.
Chris Cornell. Chester Bennington. Kate Spade. Kurt Cobain. Robin Williams. Anthony Bourdain. They all had families. They were all at the top of their fields. They were what the world would consider massively successful. They were loved by many. And all ended their own lives.
Suicide is all too common. In 2016, nearly 45,000 people look their own lives in the United States. And national rates are increasing. In Colorado, the number of deaths from suicide was 1,168, the tenth-highest in the country. This is five times the number of homicides and the seventh-leading cause of death in Colorado. In 2017, 75 people took their own lives in Larimer County.
I have spent most of my career working in suicide prevention and intervention. Suicide is something that touches our community and our church. I have assessed many people for suicide risk, including children that have attended school with my sons and people I have seen at church on Sundays. I have assessed children as young as eight and adults into their 60s.
People who are suicidal see them themselves as in an unbearable situation and see no hope of it ending. They can often think no one cares about them or their loved ones would be better off without them. Some may take their lives due to an overwhelming sense of shame over a secret or something they have done. They cannot see past their current situation and have no hope they will get better.
People who are are at risk of suicide show warning signs, many of which are related to what they talk about. Do they talk of feeling hopeless, being a burden, having no reason to live, being in unbearable pain, feeling trapped or about actually killing themselves? Other signs include behavior and mood. Are they withdrawing from activities and isolating from others? Are they sleeping too much or too little?
But none of this answers the question of what can be done. If you suspect a friend is suicidal, here are three things you can do to help.
Ask them. The research is clear: asking someone if they are having suicidal thoughts will not put the idea in their mind. In fact, some may find it a relief that they are asked and given space to talk about what they are experiencing.
Remain calm. If someone tells you they are thinking of killing themselves and you freak out, you risk creating a perception that it is not safe to talk about these things, further creating the distance they feel between themselves and others. Allow them to talk about their thoughts and feelings. They may need it, and it may help them understand that there are people who care for them.
Get help. Call a crisis line, take them to the ER or, if you’re in Larimer County, to SummitStone’s local crisis center. (Full disclosure: I work for SummitStone but not in the Crisis Center. I do not benefit financially if people go there and am listing it solely as a resource.) If necessary call 911.
Suicide can be a very hard and uncomfortable thing to talk about. However, if we are going to love like Jesus, we need to be able to talk about it. Suicide does not discriminate, and Christians are not immune. As Christians, friends, family and neighbors, we need to create a sense of safety so others can express themselves and be loved and cared for both during and after a crisis.
If you or someone you know needs help, call Colorado Crisis Services at (844) 493-8255; text TALK to 38255; or call SummitStone Health Partners at (970) 494-4200. CSU students can also call the University Counseling Center at (970) 491-7121.