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Bethe1to Campaign encourages people to take action for Suicide Prevention month

Lady Yum is donating $1 dollar to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to help raise awareness and end the stigma. (KIRO Radio, Hanna Scott)

As suicides rise in Washington health officials promote new ways to help as part of September’s National Suicide Prevention Month.

The state Department of Health says there were 1,300 suicides in Washington state in 2017, up from about 1,100 in 2016. It’s an ongoing trend in our state where suicides have increased 2.5 percent every year since 2006.

That’s prompted state health officials to promote the new national #Bethe1to Campaign, which encourages people to take five actions during Suicide Prevention month – and beyond – that could be the difference between life and death.

“These are five steps that each of us can remember to do to help keep ourselves safe, and then also our loved ones,” said State Suicide Prevention Manager Neetha Mony.

Mony said the first step – Be The One To Ask – can be the most difficult, but also makes all the difference.

“It causes a lot of anxiety or fear to ask someone if they’re thinking of suicide but often times that’s exactly what someone is hoping to be asked, so really be direct and ask someone that question if you think they’re thinking about suicide,” Mony said.

If they say yes, step two is, Be The One To Keep Them Safe by asking if they have any detailed plans, and if they have access to a gun or another method that may indicate a more immediate danger, at which point you can call for help.

Then Be The One To Be There, by listening with empathy and without judgment about why they feel so hopeless. Also Be The One To Help Connect them to help like the National Suicide Prevention hotline or other resources and, finally, Be The One To follow up with the person.

“Checking in on that person, it can be sending a text message or an email or giving them a call,” Mony said. “Just showing them that you care.”

Maggie Higgins, 22, is a baker at Lady Yum, who has struggled with depression, self harm, and thoughts of suicide much of her life and says, as hard as it may seem to ask someone if they’re suicidal, doing so could save their life.

“It’s not a rational decision, they’re not in a place to be making rational decisions so I feel like there’s a line that you cross, where you can be on that line where you’re feeling suicidal, but you’re aware that there is hope, even if it’s really small, like there’s still just a little bit of that there and then you cross that line,” Higgins said. “I never really crossed that line, but I was kind of standing on it.”

She’s spent the last several years focused on her mental health and getting better.

Then last year a shock nobody saw coming. Her father took his own life.

“He was my biggest supporter and was always the person I would talk to and always fought for me when I couldn’t fight for myself, and would advocate for myself and gave me a lot of pep talks and gave me a lot of great advice and some of it I didn’t actually really use until I lost him,” Higgins said. “It was kind of weird but his advice helped me through grieving his loss.”

Maggie says no one in her family saw any signs with her dad, and she’s not sure if these steps in the Be The One To Campaign would have made a difference for him.

What she does know is that it’s vital to end the stigma of suicide and get people talking about it.

“It needs to be talked about everywhere, it needs to be a normal thing that we talk about, it needs to like be okay and not be such a cringe topic,” Higgins said.

Her best advice for those in crisis is to reach out for help.

“Sometimes it helps to just take it 10 seconds at a time and just keep doing it,” Higgins said. “‘Okay I made it through the last 10 seconds I can do it again,’ and just do it again and again until you’re through it. You just have to tough it out because it always passes.”

If you’re going to Be The One To Ask a friend if they’re having suicidal thoughts, Higgins said, “Listen, take it seriously.”

Higgins and her co-worker, who also used to suffer from suicidal thoughts, felt compelled to do something to raise awareness, after their own experiences, her father’s suicide and some high-profile celebrity suicides this year.

They convinced their boss at Lady Yum to help out.

So they designed a special Blackberry Basil Macron, colored purple and turquoise for the suicide awareness colors. All month, for everyone one of the special cookies they sell, the boss at Lady Yum is donating $1 dollar to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to help raise awareness and end the stigma.

“Many people are taking their lives and aren’t able to ask for help or don’t know where to go, or don’t feel like they can ask for help,” Higgins said.  “Whatever it is, it’s so heartbreaking.”

You can buy the cookies at Lady Yum’s stores in Kirkland, Seattle and at Sea-Tac Airport. You can also order them for delivery from Uber Eats.

If you’re struggling with thoughts of suicide you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK,  or you can text the word “HEAL” to 741741. Both are anonymous.

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