Every age group, demographic, geological area of our country has been impacted by suicide, and a new report by the Center for Disease Control shows suicide rates are rising across the nation. Since 1999, suicide rates have gone up 30 percent. 45,000 lives were cut short due to suicide in 2016 and suicide rates have gone up in 44 states. According to the report, more than half of the people who died of suicide did not have a known medical condition, which makes this issue even more difficult.
Mental health experts say the stigma surrounding mental health needs to be put to rest.
“Because of the stigma that is associated with being diagnosed with a mental health disorder, people are choosing or unable to seek help,” says Michelle Sproul, the lead therapist at Scottsdale Recovery Center. “When we perpetuate this cycle of 'I'm not good enough, I can’t talk about this, so I have to keep it internal and hold on to it myself,' it leads to the worsening of depression and as that progresses and you isolate yourself further and further from the people that can support you through that or the profession that can support you through that.”
Recent difficult times, failed relationships, physical ailments, financial stress, job or home loss, are all factors that can lead to depression. But Sproul said the loss of community and detachment only worsen symptoms.
“Once you start to connect with other people and build that sense of community you’re able to lessen some of those symptoms and be able to thrive again,” she said.
In the East Valley, depression and suicide have impacted more than two dozen families. According to Christina Nguyen with Project Connect Four— who tracks the trend of suicides across the school districts in the area and works to bring resources together— there have been 25 teen deaths in the last year.
Summers, Sproul said, can worsen a young adult's depression because they no longer have the daily structures and connections that are present when school is in session.
“When kids are in school they have those support networks. They have their peers, they have the people they're closest with readily available. But obviously, during the summer months people are in and out on vacation, maybe your friends are not readily available so structure is really important,” she said.
Sproul said it’s important for parents and communities to be their for these young adults and show them what it’s like to have healthy relationships and connections. If you know someone hurting, Sproul says it’s ok to let them know that you are a safe, vulnerable person for them. She says too often people think that if you’re constantly trying to be there for someone it’ll push them deeper into their depression. Sproul says, that’s not the case. People in a depressive state are isolating themselves and pushing people away when really they want someone there to connect with and reach out.
She says if you’re reaching out to someone remind them that you don’t see them as weak or vulnerable. Tell them you are there for them and aren’t going anywhere. Remind them they can be themselves around you. Being physically present as a safe person in a room and just being there is sometimes the best thing you can do. But also listening to understand, and not just listening to respond. Be emotional amiable without any judgement.
Sproul also says it's important to know when you need to reach professional help for yourself or someone you know.
“You can be there to support somebody that’s having a hard time but the word suicide is to be taken seriously so if you have somebody in your life who maybe is struggling and using words like ‘I don’t wanna be here,’ that should prompt you to say ‘OK, maybe I need to encourage this person to get some professional help to support them in that,’ but I don’t think anything’s wrong in being that safe connected, vulnerable, person for somebody so that we can prevent this from escalating any further,” says Sproul.
If you are someone you know is struggling with depression and suicidal thought, there are a variety of state and national resources available:
Maricopa County: 1-800-631-1314 or 602-222-9444
Cochise, Graham, Greenlee, La Paz, Pima, Pinal, Santa Cruz and Yuma counties: 1-866-495-6735
Apache, Coconino, Gila, Mohave, Navajo and Yavapai counties: 1-877-756-4090
Gila River and Ak-Chin Indian Communities: 1-800-259-3449
Teen Life Line (phone or text): 602-248-TEEN (8336)
Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273 8255