Advocates say the key to suicide prevention is open dialogue


Editor’s Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing or experiencing a crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or by calling 988. Burrell Behavioral Health’s crisis line is available 24 hours a day at Number 1-800-494-7355.

While the pandemic has pushed mental health into the nation’s spotlight, it’s not a new story in southwest Missouri.

In fact, Springfield’s suicide mortality rate – 22.2 deaths per 100,000 people – is 60% worse than the national rate of 13.8 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the Ozarks Health Commission’s 2020 report. Springfield is also 21% worse than the rate of 13.8 deaths per 100,000 people. Missouri, which is 18.3 deaths per 100,000.

September 4 marks the beginning of National Suicide Prevention Week, but the whole month is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the goal is to “change the perception, spread hope, and share vital information for people affected by suicide.”

more: Diabetes, substance abuse and mental health a list of Springfield health priorities

Having a conversation is the first step

In Springfield and the Southwest Missouri area, local organizations from health departments to nonprofits are working to open up the conversation about suicide.

“I think there has been a consistent kind of openness to a different mindset and how we approach mental health, and thus how we deal with suicide,” said Katie Townes, director of the Springfield-Green County Department of Health. “As a child, I remember suicide as something that was viewed very negatively and almost avoided in terms of being able to talk about it.”

The pandemic may have helped open that gap.

Dr. Brandan Greminger, vice president of outpatient services and access at Burrell Behavioral Health, has seen more people talk about and take up mental health.

“We’ve really seen a shift in the normalization of behavioral and emotional wellness pursuits, and access is easier than ever,” Gremminger said. “We’ve seen this represented across the mainstream media, in both fictional entertainment & mldr.;

Speaking openly about mental health may be the first step to stopping preventable suicides.

“Suicide is definitely part of the whole gamut of mental illness,” Townes said. “We have to start from the current, and we have to be able to talk about suicide in order to prevent it.”

Suicide Warning Signs

  • Talk about wanting to die.
  • Find a way to kill oneself.
  • Talk about feeling hopeless or having no purpose.
  • Talk about feeling trapped or unbearable pain.
  • Talk about being a burden to others.
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Acting anxious, agitated, or reckless.
  • Sleeping too little or too much.
  • Withdrawal or feeling isolated.
  • Make a plan or find ways to die.
  • Show anger or talk about seeking revenge.
  • Display extreme mood swings.

What do I do

  • Ask if they have suicidal tendencies.
  • Remove any items, such as firearms, alcohol, drugs, or sharp objects, that could be used in a suicide attempt.
  • Listen and acknowledge their feelings.
  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-8255.
  • Follow up with them after the crisis.

source: National Institute of Mental Health

more: A Springfield mental health provider predicts call volume will triple with 988 . subtracted

The loss prompted a Joplin woman to take action

When Jack Christmas lost her 27-year-old son to suicide in 2008, she decided she wanted to get directly involved in suicide awareness.

Christmas said, “I thought I could do more. We could all do more.”

This has led not only to becoming a gatekeeper to a question, persuasion and referral, someone aiming to prevent suicide, but also to join the American Society for Suicide Science and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Christmas Organizes Annual AFSP Get out of the dark walking in Joplin. This year, the rally takes place on October 15.

“I just want to be there, talk to people, tell them that we are here to support them, that they are not alone and that there is hope,” she said.

She knows they’re not alone, because she’s been there, too: Six months after her son’s death, she drove to a motel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, with the intent of killing herself, even “thinking what I wanted for my last meal.”

She said she made it through the night without even trying.

“What I will say to the people in that place also is why you want to die, and think about the reasons for living,” said Christmas. “I thought: You have other children, you have grandchildren, you have a happy marriage, you have a wonderful career. The reason I wanted to die was because I wanted to be with my son.”

Contrary to the belief that talking to someone about suicide makes them more likely to attempt suicide, that conversation may be the best way to get someone to help.

“As frightening as it can be to engage someone in a conversation where you have any kind of inclination that suicide might be part of their thought process, the sooner you start that conversation, the more often you can at least open up the dialogue and connect them to help and prevent a crisis like A suicide attempt or suicide is already happening,” Townes said.

more: Riding for life: Springfield’s veteran suicide prevention group continues to grow

What is being done to combat suicide?

In mid-July, a nationwide launch happened: By calling 988, you’ll be connected to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

When people call 988 from the 417 area code, they are directed to the Burrell Behavioral Health crisis line. From July 27 to August 31, Borrell received 439 calls on the 988 line. Nearly 40% of these were people looking for information, such as resources for loved ones or themselves.

Crisis Line isn’t the only support Burrell offers.

In an effort to help businesses and individuals better support their community, Burrell also offers ONE – Our Networks Engaged Program, where people can sign a pledge to prevent and educate others about suicide. Since it began in September 2021, ONE has trained more than 1,500 individuals in suicide prevention and awareness measures.

“The idea is really to take our education into the community, whether it’s to and with these individuals, or to and with those companies so they can train their workforce,” Greminger said. “These individuals can take these skills home and share them with the community and their neighbors.”

Companies and organizations that participate in the program create and implement a suicide prevention awareness project as well as training. The pledge has been signed by more than 30 organizations.

“We really want to partner with those organizations to help support their goals toward becoming an ally, to complete and implement culture-changing and life-changing projects,” Greminger said. “Not only does it just sign a pledge to post on social media, but it actually results in some meaningful changes.”

Even the idea of ​​how we discuss suicide prevention is changing, according to Christmas. She said there’s a national debate right now about how calling all suicides preventable can sound like a slap in the face to families who survived suicide and didn’t know anything was wrong.

Some suicides are impulsive. Christmas gave the example of Kevin Haynes, the man who said he felt immediate remorse the moment he jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge.

“Most suicides are preventable,” Christmas said. “The more you learn about the warning signs, risk factors, and protective factors, the better prepared you will be to recognize when someone is starting to suffer.” “And hopefully, we can reach people when they start to struggle.”

Cities and the Ministry of Health also recognize the importance of pre-crisis interventions.

“We’re learning more about how we can work through and help people develop their sense of mental wellness, sort of develop these protective factors that will help prevent people from ‘illness or death,'” Townes said.

She said that in addition to talking more about mental illness, she’s seen people use resources to equip themselves with better ways to deal with mental illness.

“We’re getting better, but we still have a long way to go,” Townes said.

Susan Zuch is the health and public policy reporter for the Springfield News-Leader. Follow her on Twitter @szuchsm. Story idea? Email it to

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