The No. 477. That is the number of people to die by suicide in Kansas in 2015. That is one death by suicide every 18 hours in the state. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death overall in Kansas, and is the second leading cause of death for people age 10 to 34. Nearly four times as many people die by suicide in Kansas annually than by homicide. Sobering.
Luckily, suicide is preventable. While there is no single cause for suicide, there are often common warning signs including things they say and things they do that can clue individuals and those around them that support is needed. Warning signs sound like frequently talking about feeling trapped, being a burden or having no purpose. They look like increased alcohol use, reckless actions, self-isolation, giving away items or visiting people to say goodbye.
If you want to talk to someone you think is showing warning signs, have an honest conversation with them. Talk to them in private and listen to their story. Share that you care about them and ask directly if they have thought about suicide. A common myth is talking about suicide will encourage someone who was not considering it. This is not true, and many people have been saved because someone cared enough to ask directly. Encourage them to seek treatment from a mental health provider or to talk with their doctor. Avoid debating with them or minimizing their problems. If they say they are considering suicide, take them seriously and stay with them. Remove items that might be used to cause harm to themselves, and call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255). Help also can be sought by texting TALK to 741741 to communicate with a training crisis counselor any time of day.
The most important thing is letting them know they are not alone. If you are noticing the warning signs in yourself, reach out to a trusted person who can help you through the steps. Mental health needs are not a sign of weakness or an indication of your worth as a human being. Mental health needs are as important as other health needs, and sometimes we need others to support us when we may not be able to help ourselves.
Right now, we can prevent suicide by highlighting available resources and by challenging the stigma that surrounds mental illness. The Out of the Darkness Hays Walk scheduled for Sept. 16 aims to address both. The Hays Walk will share printed information and mental health services available in the area. It also will show the number of people who have struggled with mental illness and the people who have supported them. When we realize we are not alone, it allows us to seek help and get better. Registration for the Hays Walk will start at noon at Municipal Park, and the walk will be from 1 to 3 p.m. State Rep. Eber Phelps and others will talk with the group. If you are interested in walking, volunteering or donating, visit www.afsp.org/Hays.
I am walking to increase awareness and to reduce the stigma of mental health and the service that can help people who are considering suicide. I am also walking because of my own history of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. In adolescence, I battled depression accompanied by non-suicidal self-injury. As an adult, my battle has continued. Only when I was willing to seek help from a mental health professional was I able to regain control. I hope my efforts will help others get the help they need. Sign up today and join me to reduce the impact of suicide in our communities.
Kyle Carlin is a school psychologist in Hays.