RALEIGH — Suicide is a state and national public health crisis affecting people of all ages and from all socioeconomic, racial and ethnic backgrounds. Suicide awareness is key to saving lives, and with September recognized as Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services remembers those affected by suicide and is raising awareness about the treatments and resources available to everyone in the community.
In 2022, 1,539 North Carolinians aged 10 and over died by suicide, making it the ninth leading cause of death in the state and the second leading cause of death among people ages 10 to 40. For every suicide death in North Carolina in 2022, there were two hospitalizations and eight emergency department visits for self-inflicted injuries, with a total of 2,969 hospitalizations and 12,287 emergency department visits.
“Every life matters. We support the dignity and inherent worth of every person in North Carolina,” said North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) Secretary Kody H. Kinsley. “Let's come together as individuals and as a community so that no one loses their life to suicide.” (See the video message (in English) from Secretary Kinsley.)
NCDHHS has been leading the work on one of the state's largest resources for suicide prevention: 988. This three-digit lifesaver 988 suicide and crisis prevention line connects people through calls, chats or text messages with a trained counselor who will listen, offer support and provide community resources 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Since its launch in July 2022, the department has seen a significant increase in North Carolinians seeking support, demonstrating that 988 is a powerful resource for those in a mental health or substance use crisis to get the help they need.
“There are so many people struggling with their mental well-being,” said Kelly Crosbie, MSW, LCSW, director of the Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Use Services Division at NCDHHS. “It's okay to need help, and it's okay to ask for help. We need to break the stigma and spread awareness about the importance of mental health. Reducing stigma and eliminating barriers to care are key components of saving lives in North Carolina and are also critical to one of the department's three top priorities for addressing behavioral health and resilience.”
Data from 988 suggests that simply having a person to talk to can really help in a time of crisis, and connecting to short- or long-term care can also make the difference between life and death. NCDHHS encourages communities to talk about mental health and to normalize these conversations. Partners in North Carolina, from schools to religious groups and organizations that work with teens and their families, are helping to spread awareness. They have ordered printed materials to advise teens on how they can take the first step in seeking help and are working with NCDHHS to encourage everyone to visit Help for You | NCDHHS.
“Suicide is preventable. NCDHHS has worked with partners to create the State of North Carolina's Suicide Prevention Action Plan to increase access to evidence-based services that prevent suicide, support mental health and reduce substance use disorder,” said Dr. Susan Kansagra, Assistant Secretary for Public Health. “Through these ongoing efforts, NCDHHS is committed to decreasing suicide attempts and death by suicide.”
In partnership with the UNC Suicide Prevention Institute, and with funding led by Governor Roy Cooper, NCDHHS is adding a state suicide prevention coordinator who will help coordinate the state's suicide prevention efforts, according to one of the objectives outlined in the Suicide Prevention Action Plan. This position will be operated jointly by UNC and NCDHHS. This has been a long-standing recommendation from North Carolina's child mortality task force, Child Fatality Task Force, to help support and align this work in North Carolina.
The department also offers programs for interested individuals, communities, and organizations:
Leaders in Faith for Life: An Online Program and Peer Learning Training for Faith-based Organizations. People often rely on religious leaders for guidance and support during stressful life situations. This program teaches faith-based organizations to be supportive of people at risk of suicide.
Start with veterans: an online training for anyone who interacts with veterans or active military personnel. North Carolina has a high number of active veterans and military personnel who receive a variety of community services including health care, housing, benefits, and so on.
Counseling on Access to Lethal Means (CALM): The primary method of suicide is with firearms and the main method of suicidal injury seen in emergency departments is by overdose. CALM teaches care providers to explore with an at-risk person and/or their families how to make the family environment safer during the period of risk.
Guardian training: Several programs of varying lengths are available to teach a person how to recognize the signs and symptoms of suicide and link them to care.
Firearm safety equipment: community-based teams that are interested in promoting education and safe storage when it comes to firearms. There are already several teams in North Carolina.
988 is available to anyone, at any time. If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Risk factors for suicide include:
History of depression or other mental illnesses
Recent life crisis
Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, including harassment
A previous suicide attempt
Substance Abuse or Misuse
Conflict between individuals
Call or text 988 or chat with 988lineadevida.org. Spanish-speaking people can now contact Spanish-speaking crisis counselors directly by calling 988 and pressing option 2, texting the word “HELP” to 988, or chatting online at 988lineadevida.org or 988lifeline.org. Add 988 to your phone.
Photo by Thought Catalog from pexels.