Two weeks ago, my best friend and a member of the Ramirez Group extended family killed himself. Mike Frost was 29 years old, a Las Vegas native son and one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.
In talking to friends and family, almost everyone I’ve encountered has suffered a similar loss at some point. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), “In 2012 (the most recent year for which full data are available)…suicide [was] the 10th leading cause of death for Americans. In that year, someone in the country died by suicide every 12.9 minutes.” The American Association of Suicidology estimates that someone tries to end his/her life every 31 seconds. The attempts that succeed kill more people than car accidents, strokes or homicide. And in Nevada, the numbers are even scarier.
With a rate of 20.3 suicides for every 100,000 residents, the Silver State is fourth in the nation for suicide, according to a 2013 fact sheet prepared by the Office of Suicide Prevention, which was given to members Health and Human Services Committee in the State Legislature. The fact sheet shows that suicide is our state’s sixth leading cause of death, with men in Nevada following the national trend of approximately four times more completed suicide attempts than women.
That Nevadans are at higher risk for suicide than many other Americans is not new. The UNLV Center for Democratic Culture reports that our state has averaged at least double the national average suicide rate for the 85 years we’ve been reporting causes of death to the federal government.
As a result of this staggering statistic, the previously mentioned Office of Suicide Prevention (OSP) was established in 2006 under the Nevada Office of Public and Behavioral Health. The OSP’s mission is to “reduce the rates of suicide and suicidal acts in Nevada through statewide collaborative efforts to develop, implement and evaluate a state strategy that advances the goals and objectives of the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention.” Their website offers toolkits for schools, community and faith groups educating leaders about not just prevention, but how to react when a suicide does occur.
The OSP website also includes a section discussing the often overlooked problem of adult suicide. Because suicide is often considered a teenage problem, conversations regarding adults are rare and, in many cases, shrouded with misinformation. The OSP lists suicide as the “second leading cause of death for 25 – 34 year olds”. Nationally, people aged 45 – 54 have a suicide rate almost doublethose aged 15 – 24 (11.1/100,000 versus 20/100,000), and all age groups above 24 have a higher rate of successful suicides than teenagers and young adults do.
The reasons people choose to end their lives are varied and extremely complex, but experts agree on the best methods to prevent suicide. The OSP recommends educating yourself about risk factors and warning signs so you can identify if anyone in your life needs an intervention. According to the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention(NSSP), simply acknowledging that suicide happens and engaging in conversations about it makes a huge difference. Removing the shame and fear of exposure associated with suicide makes those contemplating it more comfortable seeking help. Every group agrees that listening, really listening, to those around you can save lives.
The hole left in my life now that Mike Frost is gone will never be filled. No matter how much preventive knowledge I have today, he is gone forever, just like the thousands of people who die each year as a result of suicide. While we will likely never stop suicides from happening altogether, with education and understanding we can work to keep as many people as possible from leaving us early.
Learn more at the Nevada Office of Suicide Prevention:http://suicideprevention.nv.gov/