Every year, we’re reminded that September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and that the effort is particularly important in the military-rich areas of Hampton Roads and Virginia because of the appallingly high rate of suicide among veterans.
This year, those reminders are more important than ever. So are calls for participation in this month’s suicide awareness and prevention events.
Suicide rates have been rising. The Centers for Disease Control reports that increasing numbers of people say they have recently considered taking their own lives.
Young adults in particular are combating feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, not always successfully. The CDC numbers say 16 percent of those in the 18-to-24 age group say they’ve contemplated suicide.
No surprise: It’s the coronavirus pandemic, with no clear end in sight, that is leading more people to think that life just isn’t worth living. Just about everyone is dealing with some sort of disruptions of what had been normal life. It’s worse for some than others, of course. Some have lost a loved one or been seriously ill themselves. Some have been thrown out of work. Some are facing financial disaster.
Those young people who are so depressed may have been looking forward to a bright future — college, starting a job — and now they are wondering if they’ll have any future at all.
Being lonely and isolated can leave anyone feeling helpless and depressed. So can having too much empty time without the diversions and connections we’d come to take for granted.
Complicating matters is the fact that the pandemic has caused more counseling and therapy sessions to be conducted online. Some people are hesitant to participate in virtual sessions for one reason or another. Some prefer personal contact. Some don’t have secure, private access to the internet.
Suicide has been of special concern in Hampton Roads in recent years because of the high numbers of military veterans who live in this area. Nationwide, veterans are about twice as likely as the rest of the population to take their own lives. Many have faced things during their service that stay with them.
There are phone and text hotlines available toll free, around the clock for veterans in crisis — as there are for civilians as well. There are also services available at VA facilities for mental health and other problems.
For one reason or another, and despite recent efforts to remove any stigma, many military members and veterans are hesitant to seek help through the military or veterans' facilities for problems such as depression. There’s a lingering — misguided — notion that admitting such problems is a sign of weakness.
For more than a year, Virginia has been part of the national Governor’s Challenge to Prevent Suicide organized by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Mental Health Services Administration. Gov. Ralph Northam started a pilot program to improve services for veterans across the commonwealth, coordinating and preparing existing civilian health-care agencies and facilities to do a better job of helping veterans and their families.
Those worthwhile efforts to help those who have served our country got underway before the pandemic hit in March. Now the need for suicide prevention is greater and more urgent.
But just when they’re needed more than ever, suicide prevention events, like everything else, are complicated by the pandemic. The annual Out of the Darkness community walks to raise awareness and money for suicide prevention are modified this year to follow safety guidelines. Check the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website to find out how to participate and donate in your area.
That website is one of several resources online that can help people deal with their own depression or with loved ones who might be struggling. The Virginia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Services, for one, has a useful Suicide Prevention section with advice about spotting warning signs of suicide and how to help.
Sometimes just offering a sympathetic ear can do a lot to help people realize they are not alone.
©2020 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)
Visit The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.) at pilotonline.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.