Suicide: The third leading cause of death among youth

“My son completed suicide on March 15, 2004. I contacted FirstLink within a month after his death. I knew I needed a support group to become a healthy suicide survivor. I also knew suicide of a child is the worst death ever and I would never be the same. The meetings allow me to share my pain and broken heart, the emptiness and sadness I live with. FirstLink is the one place where the word ‘suicide’ is spoken that eyes remain focused on each other and no one looks away. Healing from my son’s suicide is taking time and I believe sharing my son’s life and his death and sharing my feelings is leading to healing/recovery for me.” – Anonymous, Fargo

Youth suicide is a significant problem throughout the U.S including North Dakota. According to the 2009 data and demographics gathered by National Center for Prevention of Youth Suicide, suicide is the third leading cause of death for 10 to 24 year olds. The rates of suicide are highest for older youth. The majority of the youth who died used firearms while suffocation was the second most commonly used method for suicide.

Youth suicidal behavior is a significant problem. However, it is often preventable. Youth who are at risk of suicide are more likely to engage in suicidal behavior. Some of the at-risk  factors involve mental illness and substance abuse disorders, previous suicide attempts, firearms in the household, exposure to family member’s or friend’s suicidal behavior, and low self-esteem. The youth at risk are less likely to engage in such behavior if they are able to find protective factors in their environment that enable them to effectively assess and seek help to deal with suicidal thoughts and behaviors. This is where an organization like FirstLink plays a major role in the community, to create an environment, in which people have easy access an empathic listeners, connection with families and schools, and are able to get help in various areas of their lives.

FirstLink provides information and referral about health and human services along with various crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to create awareness, educate and prevent suicide in the Fargo-Moorhead area. FirstLink offers training to community members in suicide intervention skills training, agency specific trainings, and suicide education outreach to schools in the area. The 24-hour telephone services include the FirstLink 2-1-1 Helpline, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and after-hours crisis lines.

Another suicide support service is FirstLink’s Suicide Survivors’ Support Group which helps people resolve their grief and pain in their own personal way, and to help them move forward in their lives positively, and productively. This support group has been around since May of 1993, providing support to parents, brothers, sisters, partners, and loved ones who have lost someone to suicide. It is offered at no cost and is not affiliated with any religious group or denomination. The support group is held in Fargo once a month and involves group and one-to-one sharing as well as emotional support and fellowship. Each participant receives a quarterly newsletter which gives information about suicide and its effects as well as other special issues related to suicide.

Another expression of support is an annual event called Walk of Hope. It is in remembrance of people who passed away by suicide. Since 2000, FirstLink has held an annual walk for suicide awareness and prevention called the Walk of Hope.

The Walk of Hope helps bring awareness to the topic of suicide and helps suicide survivors meet other survivors face-to-face.  The common feelings of shame, guilt, and being alone that many survivors experience are confronted at the walk.  Participants can see that they are not alone. This year will be our 12th Annual Walk held on September 9th and will begin and end at the Fargo Public Library Courtyard.  Participants will walk to the Angel of Hope in Island Park and may place flowers with their loved one’s name at the statue and follow with a moment of silence.  We then will proceed back to the library for a short program that includes a featured speaker, music, and time for open mic for those that choose to share their story.

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