Suicide is the 9th leading cause of death in the United States. In Nebraska, it’s the 8th.
Earlier this month, members of Women United – a United Way of the Midlands’ affinity group – hosted a lunch and learn at Union Pacific to build awareness about the factors that contribute to suicide, suicide prevention, community resources available to those in need and more. Speakers included the following community members:
- Julia Hebenstreit, J.D., Executive Director, The Kim Foundation
- Mark Jones, Director of Employee Assistance Program, Union Pacific
- Joann Thurlow, Healing Conversations Coordinator, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
- Bob Turner, Private Sector Chair, Action Alliance
A Community Effort
Bob, the private sector chair of Action Alliance, opened the informative session by drawing parallels between the community response to cancer and suicide. It wasn’t that long ago, he said, that “cancer” was barely mentioned. For example, even though childhood leukemia was associated with an extremely low survival rate at the time, people weren’t talking about the disease. But that all changed when nonprofits and the business community rallied together and brought cancer to the forefront of community conversation. These organizations began directing resources toward awareness efforts and cancer research, and now survival rates for childhood leukemia are about 90%.
Bob told the audience he wants to see something similar happen when it comes to addressing suicide rates. Though the rate of death by suicide has risen by 39% since the year 2000, he believes we can turn this trend around and drastically reduce the number of deaths by suicide with the support of nonprofits and businesses.
Some organizations and businesses are already working toward that goal, like Union Pacific.
Mark, the director of the Employee Assistance Program at Union Pacific, shared a startling statistic: more citizens die by suicide each year than homicides and vehicle accidents. That’s why, with full support of Union Pacific’s leadership, he is devoted to raising awareness about suicide company-wide. The company even periodically halts operations to conduct mandatory trainings around suicide prevention and response. One employee death by suicide is too many, he said.
Julia, executive director from the Kim Foundation, shared how her organization is working in the community to address suicide rates.
Since we have programs like driver’s education to teach about road safety and prevent vehicle deaths, we ought to have programs that discuss mental health and suicide prevention, she said.
Currently, the Kim Foundation provides the following resources:
- Programming in schools around mental health and suicide prevention
- Data collection around local suicide rates
- A team that arrives on the scene of a suicide to offer resources, support and sources of hope to the newly bereaved (known as the LOSS team)
- Awareness campaigns
Suicide Warning Signs
Joann acts as a healing conversations coordinator for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, meaning she provides peer support to people who have lost a loved one to suicide. But her role doesn’t end there. She, too, is dedicated to building awareness around suicide warning signs. She said friends, family and co-workers should pay attention when someone is exhibiting the following signs:
- Changing sleep patterns
- Extreme mood swings
- Excessive drinking or substance abuse
- Talking or writing about wanting to die
- Giving away possessions
- Acting anxious or agitated
- Language changes – starting to use “absolutes” like always, never, etc.
What should you do when you notice these signs or are simply worried about someone? Ask them if they are contemplating suicide, Joann said. The conversation may be uncomfortable, but it’s better to be very direct.
How You Can Help
If someone is contemplating suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1.800.273.TALK) while you stay with the individual. The speakers recommended saving this number in your phone so you can always access it if needed. If you feel the individual is in immediate risk, call 911.
Here are additional hotline resources, provided by the Kim Foundation:
- Red Nacional de Prevención del Suicidio: 1.888.628.9454
- Iowa Gambling Treatment Program: 1.800.BETS.OFF
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) or 1.800.787.3224 (TTY)
- Veterans Crisis Line: 1.800.273.8255 (press 1)
- Nebraska Family Helpline: 1.888.866.8660
- Nebraska Rural Response Hotline: 1.800.464.0258
- Boys Town: 1.800.448.3000
- Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS): 1.800.254.4202
- Nebraska Regional Poison Center: 1.800.222.1222 or 402.955.5555
- Right Turn Adoption & Guardianship: 1.888.667.2399
And if you’d like mental health support, call United Way of the Midlands’ 2-1-1 Helpline. Our trained helpline specialists can connect you to local resources and programs that can help.
A special thanks to our Lunch & Learn sponsor, Union Pacific, and to the Women United members who organized the Lunch & Learn.
About the Author
Brayton is the Manager of Communications at United Way of the Midlands. She spends most of her days writing press releases, letters, brochures and more, but she wouldn’t have it any other way! She loves to travel and is always daydreaming about her next adventure. When she’s at home, you’ll most likely find her hanging out with her family and friends, eating chocolate or reading a good book.
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