Opinion: Can we really prevent suicide? Maybe


It’s no secret that Colorado has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation. But what remains elusive is why and what we can do about it to truly make a significant difference.

As the former state legislator who led the establishment of the Colorado Suicide Prevention Commission, and a commissioner serving on it now, my commitment to finding the answer is fierce. But as a suicide-loss survivor, my drive for this quest is even stronger.

By now, almost everyone probably knows that it is Suicide Prevention Month across the country.

I could go on and on with a whole bunch of statistics alarming you of the too-often occurrence of someone killing themselves in Colorado, but instead, let’s focus on what we can do to potentially prevent it.

It is not only up to therapists, hospitals, and the government to take action. Yes, we can continue to focus on it and build an infrastructure of systems and resources that people in need can use. And in Colorado, we’re doing a good job of that, considering the lean state budgets we have.

But what can you and I do to stop anyone from harming themselves? Well, if we’re too late in the process, we can sometimes do nothing, honestly. And in those circumstances, we will hopefully not allow ourselves to feel guilt or ask ourselves, “What could I have done?”

Sometimes, we are completely unaware of what’s going on inside another person, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

However, there are some proactive things we can do to “set the infrastructure” in our families and relationships that can make a big difference, and even save a life. Let’s talk about our children, for instance.

We may not want to admit it, but the statistics show that in Colorado, some children are considering ending their own lives as early as 6 years old. Why? What drives a child to think about that or even think of suicide as an option? And what can we do to prevent that?

Research tells us that one of the most effective protective factors against youth suicide is the child having a relationship with at least one trusted adult.

As an example, this one supportive relationship can be a parent, family member, teacher, minister, or therapist. Having someone who can listen, give loving advice, or just intentionally sit with them occasionally can be profound in them feeling heard and being accepted just as they are. That then can lead to feeling cared about and a sense of hope in the surrounding community.

As minor as this may sound, this one act can make a big difference in a child’s mental well-being. So, prioritizing our time with our kiddos and using empathy and listening skills can serve as a protective shield against them having thoughts of hopelessness or self-harm that can lead to suicide.

If we all took the time to act proactively by creating more loving and supportive relationships with each other, that one act could eventually be saving a life. Don’t wait till it’s too far down the line and they’re cutting themselves, abusing drugs or alcohol, or showing signs of actual suicidal thoughts. Let’s do what we can preventively in our own families and community before it’s too late.

If you or a loved one is having thoughts of self-harm or suicide, please reach out to your therapist or call 800-273-8255 or 911.

Former Colorado state senator, now with a master’s in Social Justice and Ethics from Iliff School of Theology, Linda Newell is a writer, speaker, facilitator, and conflict/DEI consultant. Senlindanewell@gmail.com, www.lindanewell.org, www.senlindanewell.com, @sennewell on Twitter, Senator Linda Newell or @TheLastBill on Facebook.


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