In recent months, we have witnessed several terrible storms, floods, earthquakes and a horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas. After each incident, we heard reports of first responders and common citizens who acted heroically to save the lives of others who were in danger. These are people who helped or saved others, at times putting themselves at risk. The stories are inspiring and uplifting. We feel good hearing about them and there is no doubt that people who have performed heroic deeds must feel great satisfaction.
When it comes to suicide prevention, we all have an opportunity to be heroes. There are simple actions that we can take to have a meaningful impact in the life of a person struggling with depression or experiencing thoughts of self-harm. There is substantial evidence that having positive connections, interactions and relationships with others improves one’s mental health and even lowers risk of suicide.
Helping young people
We also know that when young people are in emotional distress, they are most likely to tell a friend. Very often, just being a friend to someone and spending time with him or her can be incredibly helpful. At other times, when a distressed person does not reach out, a friend is in an excellent position to notice that their friend is struggling, and can be the one to get that person the help they need. It is not necessary to be a trained counselor to recognize and reach out when someone might be in distress or having a hard time. A statement that acknowledges concern like, “I notice you seem to be missing lots of class recently” or “you seem to be tired or sad often lately” followed by, “is anything going on? How can I help?” can make a world of difference.
The Jed Foundation (JED), along with several partners, will soon release a media campaign to encourage young people to support their friends and inform them about how easy reaching out can be. Through JED Campus, which is focused on colleges, and Set to Go, focused on high schools, JED works with schools to increase connectedness and mutual support among students.
The 94-year-old British historian Sir Michael Howard recently said, “The great lesson of my lifetime is that all difficult problems and challenges are best addressed with partners and allies.”
We all can be partners and allies for our friends, and, in the process, we just might become heroes.