This weekend, I am returning to my home state of Colorado to participate in the South Metro Out of the Darkness Walk near Denver on Saturday. I will be walking with Team Spanky, to remember my best friend, Jason, who died by suicide in 2010.
Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among millennials. We are a generation coping with dangerous levels of stress, stagnation, and limited resources to address suicide risk factors. Millennials, in particular, are found to have the highest rates of perceived stress when compared to other generations. Our generation engages in behaviors fraught with risk such as drugs, drinking, and driving under the influence, and emotional health among college students continues to fall year after year. Over the course of the past decade, suicide rates have inched higher, following a decrease the decade before. Research suggests suicide rates can be affected by socioeconomic status, employment, occupation, and sexual orientation — most of which are factors inflamed by the current economic and political environment.
Jason had the most amazing sense of humor, one that immediately disarmed anyone who spoke to him. He and I became fast friends in high school and stayed so his whole life. I am still brought to tears thinking of his mom’s voice tremble the day she called me with news as I begged her, “Please, don’t tell me something happened to Jason." The days that followed were filled with the question of why, the shock of loss, the guilt, horror, and uncertainty of who I could share the burden of the trauma with.
The most heartbreaking part of losing Jason, besides the fact that so little of the world will ever know him, is how little I knew about suicide before his death. In fact, it was only after that the ways he was at risk became fully clear to me.
In Colorado, the suicide rate reached a record high in 2012, up 16% from the year before. The number of Coloradans between the ages of 20 and 64 who died by suicide increased 16.7 percent. Teens and older seniors were the only age demographics to experience a drop in suicide rates which might speak in part to the success of targeted efforts to reduce teen suicide. The trend upward appears to be in working adults, including millennials.
Suicide deaths surpass car accident deaths, yet the amount of money spent researching mental illness and the factors that lead to suicide is dwarfed by the funds dedicated to researching prevention of other categories of illnesses and unintentional death. We can and should do more. Millennials need to get involved in programs aimed at improving prevention and deterrence, work toward expanded research, and support new policies in the fight to reduce the incidence of suicide.
We must be vigilant and persistent in advocating for attention to mental health, knowing all along that the ultimate goal is to save lives. Team Spanky is comprised of mostly millennials dedicated to the cause of ending the stigma that stops those with suicidal thoughts from seeking help, honoring the memory and the life that Jason lived that could never be erased by the way he died, and promoting the efforts of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to change our nation's story about suicide.