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Commentary: We can all play a role in preventing deaths from suicide

Jeff Herman, CEO of Prairie St. John's Hospital Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Many of us may not want to talk about it —— but the truth is we've all likely been impacted by suicide and we all can play a role in tackling one of our nation's most pressing health issues. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and rates have been on the rise in nearly every state. In North Dakota, suicide rates rose by 57.6 percent and in Minnesota by 40.6 percent. According to newly released Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, suicide is rarely caused by a single factor but instead a range of factors including mental health conditions, relationship, substance use, physical health, job, financial and legal problems.

As a health care system serving the Fargo Moorhead area and surrounding region, we are committed to doing our part to provide suicide-safe care inside our facility and to help build connections with the community.

Because we take this responsibility seriously, we have cultivated many partnerships working closely with school counselors, first responders, law enforcement officers, faith leaders, medical professionals and maybe some of you reading this article. For example, we are proud of the relationship we have forged with FirstLink who collaborates with our facility to implement a suicide follow up call program.

But we need your help too. Even the smallest of actions can help someone who is struggling or in crisis make recovery a reality. When someone is feeling helpless, hopeless, alone, and often in their darkest hour, it can be a daunting road to walk down without a hand to hold or an ear to listen.

Whether you're a neighbor, student, family member or a friend, an employee or supervisor, a parishioner or faith leader, a teacher or PTA member, you can be there for someone who is struggling or in distress—just like you would be there for someone with a physical illness, like cancer or heart disease. Actively listening in a nonjudgmental way, offering a meal, calling to check in, and helping to develop a safety plan are concrete ways to help someone work towards recovery. However big or small they may seem, these actions can help a fellow community member to feel less alone.

In recognition of National Suicide Prevention Month, join us to educate the public about the role they play in preventing suicide and be there for someone who is struggling or in crisis this month — and all year round. Here are some other helpful ways to be there:

• Recognize the warning signs

• Learn the action steps for communicating with someone who might be suicidal

• Share the Lifeline number (800-273-2855) for 24/7 free and confidential support. Military veterans may press '1' for specialized care.

• Promote resources and services that are available, like those at Prairie St. John's.

Only by working together can we truly address/eradicate this preventable public health issue.

Herman is CEO and managing director of Prairie St. John’s.