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September named suicide prevention month

Photo courtesy of MSU communications. Credit Logan Kirkland.

It’s suicide prevention month in Mississippi and across the country. Governor Phil Bryant signed a proclamation earlier this month, declaring September to be Suicide Prevention Month in the state and people across Mississippi are coming together to promote suicide prevention and awareness.

As part of National Suicide Prevention Week, (September 9-15) Mississippi State University’s Department of Health Promotion and Wellness displayed 1,100 backpacks on the university’s Drill Field. The backpacks represented the 1,100 U.S. college students who die by suicide each year. 

The 81st Medical Operations Squadron Mental Health team at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi will host a sky lantern vigil 7 p.m. Sept. 27 at Biloxi Beach across from the White House Hotel. The event, themed Lights for Life, will honor the memories of victims of suicide. During the vigil, survivors as well as those whose lives have been touched by the suicide of a friend or loved one will light candles and release sky lanterns in their memory. Community members are invited to take part in the event.

Molly Portera Director of the Division Outreach and Training at the Mississippi Department of Mental Health said that in Mississippi, suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15-24 year old, however, all ages are affected by suicide. 

“Suicide affects all ages, it affects all races, it does not discriminate…” Portera said.

On average, 123 people die each day by suicide in the U.S. and according to a CDC survey released in the summer of 2018, there was a 17.8% increase in Mississippi deaths by suicide from 1999 to 2016. While the rate of suicide in the US increased by 25% from 1999-2016, Mississippi falls below the national average and has a lower suicide rate than many of the surrounding states. However, Portera adds that no increase in suicide deaths should be acceptable. 

The numbers of suicide attempts are not tracked in Mississippi, but estimates show that for every one completed suicide, there are 25 attempts.

While Portera said multiple risk factors put people at risk for suicide having those factors does not always mean suicide will occur. Those risk factors include a previous suicide attempt, a history of depression or mental illness, alcohol or drug use, family history of suicide or violence, a physical illness, and feeling alone.

Warning signs can range from withdrawal from those around them to mood swings, problems at school, and talking about wanting to die. Portera says roughly 50%-75% of people who attempt suicide tell someone about it first. 

“There’s a myth out there that people who talk about suicide are just wanting attention,” Portera said. “If that’s the case, then let’s give them some attention! Let’s find out what’s going on with that person, why they are talking that way and pay attention to those warning signs.”

However, sometimes the best way to help someone is to simply start the conversation by asking a question as simple as: are you okay? Portera said another myth is that if suicide is talked about then there is a higher likelihood that the individual will complete suicide.

“It’s really just the opposite,” Portera said. “When someone is thinking about suicide, that is the one thing that they want you to do, is to ask them ‘are you okay, how can I help you?’ Because a lot of the time it is really hard for someone who is thinking about suicide to actually start the conversation.

Portera said in recent years there seems to have been a reduction in the stigma around suicide which has allowed for more conversations among young people on the subject, ultimately leading to fewer suicides.

“The more that we talk about it, the more that people will feel like they can get help,” Portera said. “Stigma is the reason that people don’t ask for help. It’s because they are scared, they are embarrassed, they are ashamed…”

Events include a Suicide Prevention Symposium hosted by the Mississippi Department of Mental Health on September 17th and a sky lantern vigil hosted by the 81st Medical Operations Squadron Mental Health team at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi on September 27th at 7 p.m. at the Biloxi Beach across from the White House Hotel. The event, themed Lights for Life, will honor the memories of victims of suicide. During the vigil, survivors as well as those whose lives have been touched by the suicide of a friend or loved one will light candles and release sky lanterns in their memory. Community members are invited to take part in the event.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-8255 – Counselors available to talk 24/7

Crisis Text Line
741-741 Counselors available to text 24/7

Department of Mental Health Helpline
Information and resources regarding services for children and adults in need of mental health, substance use, and/or intellectual and developmental disabilities treatment at 1-877-210-8513.

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