Our family, like so many others, has been touched by suicide. Our son-in-law Ted Merchant took his own life in 2000. He was an active duty officer in the Coast Guard, which puts him among the 20 veterans who die by suicide every day. We know firsthand the survivors' shock, guilt and recrimination. And a wonderful young man is no longer with us.
We Americans are losing ground. The suicide rate in the U.S has increased 30% sine 1999. In Vermont the rate increase is 48%.
I don't know what is driving the increase, but I do know we must do a better job of identifying and addressing suicide risk.
The VT legislature has nibbled at the edges. This past session we passed bills that would provide paid leave to care for a family member, increased gun safety, increased pay for mental health workers, addressed toxic stress in children, and mandated a review of the states' suicide data.
Real awareness and prevention starts with friends and family. Don't dismiss a friend or loved one as "gloomy" or "moody." Be frank with him/her. Ask direct questions. Be ready to talk. Encourage him or her to seek professional help or even emergency help if it seems a crisis is near.
Be open. There is nothing shameful about suicide or depression. It is a condition any of us can fall prey to.
Be active. Know whom to contact if an issue arises. Support suicide prevention and awareness groups. Learn the symptoms of depression and be willing to lend a hand when you see them.
Let's get the suicide rate on a downward trend!
National suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255. Available 24/7.