This blog post was originally published on September 10, 2018. It has been updated to include information pertaining to World Mental Health Day 2019 and the 40 Seconds campaign.

October 10 is World Mental Health Day. The World Health Organization (WHO) is joining with partner organizations to make this year’s World Mental Health Day devoted to suicide prevention. They are calling for “40 seconds of action” around the world to raise awareness of the scale of the problem and the role each of us can play to prevent it.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): “Nearly 40,000 people in the United States die from suicide annually, or 1 person every 13 minutes. The suicide rate has been rising over the past decade, with much of the increase driven by suicides in mid-life, where the majority of all suicides in the United States now occur.”

The problem isn’t limited to the U.S. Suicide is a global crisis, claiming 800,000 lives a year. According to WHO figures, 79 percent of suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries. And it doesn’t strike every age group equally: among 15-29 year-olds suicide is the second-leading cause of death.

In an effort to do our part for World Mental Health Day, we’re spotlighting a critical resource: the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK), a self-described “public safety net” that connects callers with counselors at 150+ crisis centers across the nation. Six of those centers are located in Texas: two in Houston, and one in Austin, Dallas, El Paso, and Fort Worth.

The service is free and confidential. Last year, the Lifeline received more than 2 million calls. Roughly a quarter were suicidal crisis calls, while the rest pertained to non-suicidal mental health or substance abuse issues. It’s a vital resource that touches countless lives.

What to Expect if You Call

When callers dial 1-800-273-TALK, they’re connected to the nearest accredited crisis center. If call volume at the nearest center is at capacity, the call is answered by a network backup center. More than 85 percent of calls are routed in 30 seconds or less, though wait times nearing one to two minutes are occasionally reported.

Waiting at the other end of the line are teams of crisis counselors who are well-versed in the Lifeline’s best practices for suicide risk assessment and prevention. They’re trained to work collaboratively with callers—to keep an ear out for signs of imminent danger, and to engage an individual’s understanding of their own crisis.

What happens next depends on the present needs of the caller. The counselor might share coping techniques, establish contact with local mental health professionals or, if necessary, involve emergency services. Whether it takes minutes or hours, the counselor remains on the line until the situation de-escalates.

Know the Warning Signs and How to Support Survivors

You don’t have to be in crisis to call 1-800-273-TALK. The Lifeline is also available to people who are concerned about friends and family. Knowing the warning signs of suicidal behavior, as well how to provide support can prevent suicide.

Kindness and active listening go a long way when you encounter someone in distress. Check out this brief animated video to learn the power of empathy (versus sympathy).

Taking it a step further—by educating ourselves, applying our knowledge, and sharing what we learn with others—empowers people to take meaningful, potentially life-saving action. Check out SAMHSA’s suicide prevention information sheets specific to setting (e.g. workplaces, universities), profession (e.g. caregiver, teacher) and relationship (e.g. parent, faith community member).

Resources for Friends and Family

A supportive community is crucial for friends and family of people living with mental health conditions.

To become better equipped to support a loved one, learn tools for coping and self-care, and get to know people who are going through something similar, consider the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Family-to-Family educational course for family, caregivers and friends. Contact your local NAMI to find out when the course is offered in your area.

Take 40 Seconds!

A person dies by suicide every 40 seconds. This brief interval can be the difference between life and death–it’s also plenty of time to make a difference. Download this flyer for tips on how to support the 40 Seconds campaign.


Links and Further Resources