As a program officer at the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, I frequently have the opportunity to research and review various reference materials related to mental health. Recently, I was eyeballing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website and ran across some very disturbing statistics. As an advocate and having lived experience with mental illness, I am aware of these statistics and the effects of being unwell; however, on this day the statistic and the context of suicide hit me hard, really hard.
The latest statistics state that in 2008, 36,035 individuals committed suicide in the United States alone. That is an average of 3,003 people per month. Then I began putting these numbers to faces. Faces of people whom I had never met. The loss of life represented in these numbers was unsettling. I began thinking about an upcoming trip and the passenger capacity of the airplane on which I and fellow colleagues would be traveling. The average Boeing 737 has the passenger capacity of 145 people. The number of suicides that occurred in 2008 is equivalent to 20 airplanes (carrying 145 passengers each) crashing every month in the U.S. and everyone on board losing their life.
If 20 airplanes carrying 3,003 people crashed every month and all the women, children and men on board lost their lives, America would be outraged. There would be a glaring failure in our system to protect air travelers. Americans would demand a call to action – and things would change. In the same way, these suicide numbers reveal that we are failing people with mental illness and the system needs to change. Effective prevention strategies are needed to promote awareness of suicide and encourage a commitment to social change. What can you do to help prevent suicide by promoting social change?