NEW BEDFORD — A tweet from November 2016 hangs atop Rev. David Lima’s timeline. It mentions suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and second for people younger than 24.
“Help us raise awareness," it reads.
Two years later the numbers haven’t changed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide also ranks as the fourth leading cause of death for individuals age 35 to 54, taking more than 15,000 lives in 2016.
“I think one of the difficulties is having the discussion about suicide,” Lima said. “It’s not something people look to talk about.”
September is Suicide Awareness Month, and Sunday begins Suicide Awareness Week. They're opportunities for Lima and others in the community to speak about a topic that resulted in more than 44,000 lives lost in 2016.
“It’s about increasing awareness so people can see the topic, hear about the topic and know that there’s resources,” said Lorna Keatin, the child services supervisor for the Department of Mental Health in the Greater New Bedford area. “The month is an awareness tool.”
The Greater New Bedford Suicide Prevention Coalition has a “Family Fun Night and Social Emotional Wellness” program planned for Thursday at 888 Purchase St. It’ll mark the second time the event has coincided with an AHA! Night in the city. It will include an array of activities including face painting, arts and craft and kids yoga.
More importantly it will also provide an educational opportunity regarding the suicide and a chance for those needing help to seek it.
“It’s just again information out to the community so people have conversations about this,” Keatin said. “Conversations that people can understand that other people just like them have needs like this.”
Keatin and Lima compared discussions about suicides to addiction in that a stigma follows. With suicide, a person is less remembered for what made them human and instead tied forever with their final action.
“We, for years, have stigmatized those who had mental health issues,” Lima said. “Yet, we’ve all experienced depression and many times we’ve all experienced anxiety.”
In Bristol County, through last week, there were 55 deaths by suicide. Last year, the total was 39. This year in Greater New Bedford, 16 have died by suicide an increase of six from last year, according to Lima, who said there was no rhyme or reason for the spike.
Carl Alves, of PAACA, is working with veterans groups and Southcoast Behavioral Hospital to work with clinicians and psychologists and therapists to provide education on best practices when helping veterans in areas of suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Lorna and the Department of Mental Health continues to provide QPR (Question, Persuade and Refer) training to all types of community groups from police officers to YMCAs to teachers.
In October, Child Family Services will partner with the Greater New Bedford Suicide Prevention Council to start a support group for those affected by suicide.
While September marks a specific month to bring awareness, the work continues year round.
“Sometimes we have to go the extra mile," Lima said. "We have to care just a little more so that somebody feels supported and safe."
Follow Michael Bonner on Twitter @MikeBBonnerSCT.