Promoting Connectedness Can Help Prevent Suicide
Suicide is a public health problem that impacts all of us. It’s the tenth leading cause of death in the United States and the second leading cause of death in the world for those aged 15-24 years. Each suicide has devastating effects and intimately affects > 6 other people. And for every suicide death there are approximately 25 non-fatal suicide attempts (SAMHSA 2019).
While these statistics are alarming, we can’t lose sight of the fact that suicide is preventable. The New York State of Mental Health’s Suicide Prevention Center is committed to preventing suicide and saving lives. Our work supports two main approaches to preventing suicides. First, we invest in increasing access to high quality crisis and mental health services for those at high risk, getting them the help they need—so called “downstream” prevention. But we also support programs that seek to leave individuals less vulnerable to becoming suicidal in the first place–”upstream” prevention that usually involves increasing “protective factors,” factors known to decrease suicide risk like having trusted adults to turn to when distressed.
Building and Maintaining Connection
If there is any silver lining to the pandemic, it may be that it has highlighted the fundamental importance of connection to mental health and wellness. Being able to connect with someone you trust and knowing that they will listen (nonjudgmentally) and support you is crucial for our mental wellness because social support can leave us more resilient in the face of stress. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that substantial evidence supports the view that connectedness between persons reduces risk of suicidal behavior. General measures of social integration (e.g., number of friends, higher frequency of social contact, low levels of social isolation or loneliness) have been found to be protective against suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Maintaining a strong and trusted social network is important for our mental wellness.
Connectedness isn’t only important on the individual level – many people have looked toward groups and organizations for support, and studies have shown that connectedness of people to their trusted organization has protected against suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Examples of groups and organizations are schools, universities, workplaces, community centers, and churches or other religious or spiritual organizations. A strong connection to a group can help increase a person’s sense of belonging, and provide a sense of personal value, as well as offer access to a larger source of support that can monitor each other’s behavior and take responsibility for each other’s wellbeing.
If we’re going to prevent suicide, we need to support healthy interpersonal relationships and build caring communities. We need to remove social barriers to help-seeking for those in-need, so people who might be at-risk for suicide will be less likely to engage in life-threatening behaviors. This can ultimately help promote positive health and well-being in our communities and lower the risk of suicidal behavior.
For more information about connectedness and to be able to identify warning signs of suicide and better understand how to start a conversation about suicide, view the resources listed below:
- NY Cares About Preventing Suicide
- Crisis Text Line website
- Crisis Text Line – It’s For Everyone (video)
- The Center for Disease Control Prevention – Promoting Individual, Family, and Community Connectedness to Prevent Suicidal Behavior