We were recently reminded how much of a positive difference one person can make. At the Video Music Awards, singer Logic performed a moving song about suicide prevention and mental health. The song called “1-800-273-8255” is the phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The day after the song was released, the hotline had the second-highest call volume in its history.¹ Callers reached out for help. Logic’s honest songwriting and courageous performance revealed his own history of suffering and inspired hope through positive action. He connected through our shared humanity. He generated help-seeking. Now, calls to the hotline are up more than 30% from this time last year.
Of course, this is not the first time one resolute act has replaced hopelessness with hope. Between the 1950’s and the 1980’s, suicide in Los Angeles decreased dramatically after psychologist, Edwin Shneidman and psychiatrist, Marvin Farberow founded the Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Center—the first of its kind.² They trained lay volunteers to answer the phone and to connect callers with immediate help. By 2009, there were more than 140 accredited suicide prevention centers across the U.S.—with even more non-accredited crisis centers & call lines. Fortunately, these are now commonplace. Shneidman also founded the American Association of Suicidology and began a line of scientific inquiry that still guides both research and practice.
“Anyone who willingly enters into the pain of a stranger is a truly remarkable person.”Henri Nouwen
But these voices are not alone. They are among many who have had broad influence in suicide prevention and many more who have touched individual lives. This past Sunday, we celebrated the 15th annual World Suicide Prevention Day with the theme of “Take a minute, change a life.”³ So what can you do? Your voice has the power to impact those in your unique personal circle. If you think someone you care about may be at risk for suicide, take it seriously. It is terrifying to wonder if someone may be suicidal. Normally, we lean away from fear. For this fear, lean in. And, keep in mind, no one has all the answers. Instead, take steps of compassion.⁴
- Ask the difficult questions about the depth of hopelessness they may be experiencing. Listen for direct or indirect comments that indicate a person is considering suicide. Communicate patiently.
- Persuade them to wait before taking any action.
- Connect them with immediate professional help.
For more information including statistics and additional hotline options read Dr. Keenan-Miller’s recent article, What Everyone Should Know About Preventing Suicide. We can all be a vehicle of hope by talking about mental health more often, more openly and without judgment. Every voice has the potential to make a positive difference. Let yours be one. To quote Logic: “It can be hard, it can be so hard. But you gotta live right now. You got everything to give right now.”
 Tinker, Benn (2017). CNN.com: Calls to suicide prevention hotline spike after VMA performance.
 Dicke, William (2009). New York Times: Edwin Shneidman, Authority on Suicide, Dies at 91. (September 10, 2017). International Association of Suicide Prevention.
 Quinnett, Paul, (2011). QPR: Ask a Question, Save a Life, Third Edition.