In 2007, my husband and I lived in the Washington, D.C. area and were expecting our first child. We were awakened in the middle of the night with an alarming call about a close family friend. After rushing to his apartment and then to the police station, we learned the heart-wrenching news that our bright, young, healthy friend had taken his life. Overcome with emotion, we attempted to console his family and each other while trying to make sense of this tragedy. How could a person with a great job, friends and future plans end his life? What could we have done differently? Question after question remained unanswered.
We’ve lost too many loved ones and sadly, more of Guam’s youth are falling victim to suicide. In 2015, Guam’s suicide rate was 50% higher than the national average with people under 30 making up 60% of suicide deaths. Another alarming statistic involves our veteran population with over 22 U.S. veterans committing suicide every single day.
As the daughter of a clinical social worker, mental health and emotional well-being is high on our family’s priority list. Unfortunately, there’s still stigma surrounding reaching out for help. Some view talking to others about your struggles as admitting weakness and even failure. Thankfully, our health and social services professionals continue their daily work to change this perception and assist those in need. We can all do something to instill hope in others, combat suicide and save lives.
Reaching out to friends and family who are struggling is key. Parents, peers and teachers are typically the initial point of referral for struggling students. With continued training, education and early intervention, our youth can be pulled from the abyss. Letting someone know you’re there to listen, free of judgment, with the primary goal of creating a space to vent and release stress can be a meaningful lifeline. This is where compassion and empathy can make all the difference, reminding ourselves to “be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center, the PEACE office and other social services agencies to continue to make great strides by educating the public. Visit www.peaceguam.org to learn more about local programs and suicide prevention campaigns, as well as who is at risk, what suicide warning signs are (threatening to hurt or kill oneself, engaging in risky behavior, alcohol or drug use, etc.) and how you can help. Once we arm ourselves with information, we can spread the word. I recently took part in a social media challenge to raise awareness for veteran suicide and show support for struggling vets by doing 22 pushups for 22 days. It was an opportunity to feature some of my favorite local spots and get my kids in on the action, too.
Lastly, ask for help. We’re not all mental health professionals but luckily for us, these folks are just a phone call away. Sanctuary Incorporated of Guam operates a 24-hour local crisis hotline at 475-7100 and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK. Take the time to save these numbers in your phone now!
It’s important to remember: “Suicide doesn’t end the chances of life getting worse, it eliminates the possibility of it ever getting any better.” Life isn’t always easy, but we live with the hope that despite challenges and personal tragedies, “this too shall pass.” We owe it to each other to continue to listen, learn and ask for help.