Suicide is the second leading cause of death in Washington for youth between ten and 24 years old. In our country, one person dies by suicide every fourteen minutes. Yet, we still have a hard time even saying the word “suicide.”
“It’s the ugly thing that families don’t want to talk about.” But Danna McGill says that has to change to bring down the staggering suicide rates today.
McGill is the chair of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention of Washington. She became involved after her best friend took his own life in 2008.
“I was completely and totally lost. I didn’t know what to do with my feelings, how I could help others, it was devastating,” says McGill.
Along with the grief, one of the hardest things for suicide survivors is not knowing why.
“You can’t say there was a car accident or there was cancer. They decided they were through and there wasn’t a thing that could be done at that moment. You’re left with so many questions, the whys and the hows, and why didn’t he call me?” she says.
Cristi Comes is a Foundation board member and has struggled with mental illness herself. She says if you suspect someone you love is thinking about suicide, you can’t beat around the bush.
“More often than not, if you ask someone directly if they are thinking about suicide, they will give you an honest answer. Truly, in their heart, they don’t want to die, they just want the pain to go away. If you reach out to them, they know that you care, and sometimes, just starting that conversation can save them,” Comes says.
McGill says 95 percent of all people who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental illness but they don’t want to go to a psychiatrist or doctor because they fear it could damage their permanent records or hurt their career.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention offers safeTALK training to help identify those who are at risk. The organization also holds fundraising walks throughout the state and they have a Survivor Outreach Program to help people who’ve lost loved ones to suicide.
“We’ll go into someone’s home and say ‘I get it,’ or ‘I understand.’ We are not counselors, we are not professionals, but we are people who’ve been there,” says McGill.
Comes says suicide is 100 percent preventable and the Foundation has saved countless lives, including her own. Since her darkest days, she has gone on to get married, raise children and have a successful family life.
“I have such a full and loving life even though I have mental illness and have thought of suicide in the past.”
She says there is help out there and the treatment really works if you give it a chance.