Kirsten Hanson guest col: Speaking up about suicide awareness

This September is National Suicide Awareness month, an important time for individuals and families affected by many forms of mental illness. In Nevada, the epidemic of suicide has reached a crisis. Here, more of our neighbors commit suicide with a firearm than are killed in traffic accidents, seniors have the highest rate of suicide than anywhere else in the country, and suicide is the second leading cause of death for our young people aged 15-24.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Northern Nevada has known this for a long time. For years the organization has tried to stem the tide of suicide through legislation, advocacy and support for people in crisis. Unfortunately, crisis centers are virtually non-existent in our state, and mental health support is sorely lacking.

As the government relations volunteer for NAMI Northern Nevada, a friend reached out to me earlier this year trying to understand how suicide could happen. She had lost someone to suicide and said “I just don’t understand how one can get to that point.” Her question, which was completely reasonable, exemplifies what many people feel about suicide or self-harm in general. I knew exactly what she was talking about.

As a NAMI volunteer, I speak openly about my struggle with Bipolar depression. Before getting the proper treatment, my illness often caused me such despair suicide seemed like the only relief. The stigma surrounding mental illness perpetuates suicide rates in Nevada which have been rising steadily over the past 20 years.

I remember overhearing a conversation as a young teenager about suicide which deeply wounded me. The people discussing a recent suicide condemned the victim and even believed the victim would be punished for a “selfish” choice. As a young child, this conversation caused me to keep my struggle inside and suffer alone in fear of the judgment I was sure to face. It was almost 15 years before I reached out for help by opening up to someone I trusted.

NAMI’s motto is “You are never alone,” and this is a core part of suicide awareness and treatment. The answer to my friend’s question about how one can “reach that point” is complex, but I do know for whatever the reason a person may experience suicidal ideation — there is help. NAMI helps people connect with resources, individuals who have experienced severe mental illness, and most of all, connect with hope. A critical part of the solution to our suicide epidemic in Nevada is reaching out and connecting with people openly and honestly without stigma.

I’m proud to say I’m a survivor and that’s why I’m speaking up this September.

Kirsten Hanson is a NAMI Northern Nevada Government Relations Volunteer.


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