September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and today is World Suicide Prevention Day. In the last two decades, the rate of suicide has increased by 16 percent in Georgia and 30 percent across the nation. Recently, high-profile suicides covered the news in our state, but the tragedy of suicide occurs every day in Georgia. One death by suicide is too many, but I want to offer a message of hope. Suicide is preventable, and everyone has a role to play in preventing it.
First, if you have not already, stop reading right now and program the Georgia Crisis and Access Line (GCAL) into your phone: 800-715-4225. If you have an iPhone or Android, download the MyGCAL app, which allows users to call, text, or chat with the caring professionals at GCAL 24/7. These simple steps could make a life-saving difference if you ever find yourself in a position to help someone who is at risk of suicide.
How do you know when someone is at risk? Sometimes the signs are obvious, such as a direct statement, but the signs may be subtle. To learn about warning signs for suicide, visit samhsa.gov/find-help/suicide-prevention. If you are concerned about someone who may be considering suicide, remember these four action steps: ASK-LISTEN-STAY-HELP.
Ask openly and compassionately, ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’ Listen to the person without judgment; avoid trying to ‘fix it.’ Stay with the person if he or she is suicidal; keep him or her safe until help arrives. Help him or her find the right kind of help. Call the Georgia Crisis Access Line (GCAL) anytime at 800-715-4225.
In Georgia, DBHDD is leading numerous suicide prevention efforts. Later this month, we are hosting the 2019 Suicide Prevention Conference with the Georgia College and State University Coalition. The goal of the conference is to provide a forum for supportive learning to professionals, students, and community members who share an interest in suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention. Registration filled within days, and we are really pleased to see so much interest in this important work.
While the conference provides a large-scale visible opportunity to educate and train suicide prevention advocates and allies, our efforts are year round. DBHDD’s Office of Behavioral Health Prevention supports the following activities:
- Garrett Lee Smith Youth Suicide Prevention Grant: This grant focuses on youth, 10 to 24 years of age, living in three Georgia counties (Bartow, Newton, and Oconee) with youth suicide death rates higher than the national average. The program has aided in identifying and referring more 4,000 youth for mental or non-mental health related services. This program also has a significant impact on outreach, awareness, and implementation within the communities it serves and throughout Georgia.
- Mental Health Awareness Training: The goal of this project is to increase the capacity of Georgia communities to reduce suicide risk that may contribute to suicide attempts and/or death by suicide. This project will train more than 200 individuals annually statewide, including providing specialty training certification for at least 100 mental health and/or suicide prevention professionals. In addition, organizational representatives who receive training support will enhance the mental health service referral process for individuals and families, which increases access to care and support.
- Georgia Suicide Prevention Coalitions: Operating as community-based initiatives, coalitions extend the reach of prevention, intervention, and postvention activities. Suicide prevention coalitions are on the frontline in suicide prevention education, collaborating with schools and faith organizations, and responding after a death by suicide has occurred. DBHDD provides training, coaching, and technical assistance to these coalitions to extend efforts to reach underserved communities and populations.
- DBHDD is leading a collaborative effort to develop a five-year suicide prevention strategic plan. By having a coordinated statewide effort, the impact for Georgians will be more accessible prevention resources, specialized training for clinicians, and improved community capacity for suicide education. The final 2020-2025 Georgia Suicide Prevention Strategic Plan is being drafted and is planned for spring 2020 distribution.
Suicide prevention requires each of us to be actively engaged and willing to fight the associated stigma that keeps so many in pain, silent, and isolated. Together, our state, and our nation can confront this painful epidemic.
Commissioner, Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities