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Executive Director’s Report: Suicide Prevention

Hello NAMI SWI Friends and Family …
Kris Gamm-Smith - NAMI SWI Executive Director
Recently, I attended a training on Best Practices for Suicide Prevention. It was sponsored by numerous agencies, including the 708 Boards for both St. Clair and Madison Counties. It was, in my opinion, the best presentation I have heard regarding the current news on suicide prevalence and demographics nationally, state-wide, and locally; also on how to discuss and assess the risk of suicide in someone with suicidal thoughts.

Here are some statistics that show an incline in suicide rates over the past 10 years:

  • In Madison County there were 361 deaths by suicide (that have been reported).
  • In St. Clair County there were 264 deaths in that same period of time.

Nationally speaking, the incidence of suicide attempts climbed to 1.4 million in 2017, and from what we project, is still climbing across the nation, and in our own backyard. Professionals such as First Responders and Physicians, often see people at their most vulnerable times.

We could go on with more detail, but suffice it to say, the rates are looking worse over time, and we have to get our heads out-of-the sand. We must deal with this serious problem now. We need to find more creative and innovative ways to intervene when someone is displaying suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Suicide attempts and deaths have permeated all types of people groups, socio-economic status and ages. This is a startling statistic….it is the second leading cause of death youth between 10 and 24 year olds.

It is heartbreaking to learn the devastating news that a loved one has committed suicide. I understand the agony of loved ones who have to go on living with that reality. I understand something about that. I have lost extended family members and close friends to suicide. The severe remorse, guilt and constant “what if’s” of others impacted by the death can consume you emotionally and psychologically. So what can we do? If someone is feeling hopeless, then It’s time they need support to circumvent falling into, or bringing oneself out of, a bottomless pit.

In the training mentioned earlier, there was a presentation on safety planning and learning how to talk openly about suicidal thoughts and plans. The direct questions must be asked i.e., are you thinking about hurting yourself or committing suicide? There was also discussion of the role of the treating physician, many of whose patients leave after presenting with depression and/or anxiety and attempt suicide within a week following their doctors visit.

NAMI Southwestern Illinois is committed to participating in the fight to promote suicide as a priority concern. We know that our weapons to battle it are providing both education and support to those who are facing this issue within their own family or friendships. We want to help minimize the stigma associated with “talking about” this difficult and painful issue. Experience tells us that reaching out to a friend in need, or a total stranger for that matter, reduces the anxiety and distress that a person thinking or feeling suicidal is driven by. It is true that most people are overwhelmed by their emotions, and are looking for a way to “get rid of them”. That, combined with self-persecutory thoughts of being a “bad” person, can result in a volatile and extreme action; an action that is frequently impulsive and occurs while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.

I have heard story after story of how someone was on the brink of taking their life, when someone or something stops them at the last minute. Showing compassion and understanding at this time can make things turn around for them. It offers them time to contemplate what they are about to do, and whether or not this is really going to accomplish getting them what they need in the present.

This newsletter has resource information that will direct someone who is dealing with suicidal thoughts, to get help immediately. Please keep track of this information so that it is readily available if you find someone in a potential crisis. In our next newsletter we will share information about what you can do to assess the need for further intervention, if someone is presenting with thoughts of wanting to harm themselves.

Let’s work together to help save lives. Let us reach out to people who may be hurting and feeling hopeless and discouraged. Most of us have had a feeling of wanting to give up. We have to face the reality however, that we are not doing enough to address this growing crisis NOW!! Call us, or email us, if you have a concern, a question, or just want to talk about how to get help. We care about your well-being and we have hope, when you may not, that things will get better.

Respectfully Submitted,
Kristine Gamm-Smith, M. A.
Executive Director, NAMI SWI

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