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September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

I’m proud to represent Spectrum Health on the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Erie County. Here I get a chance to meet regularly with others committed to achieving “zero suicides” and share the ways we’re working towards this goal.

This time of year is particularly poignant: September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, a time where we collectively reflect on the lives that were lost, the lives that were saved, and think about the time to come when we won’t feel the need to gather like this.

The work that we do as a group is amazing! We provide important education about resources in our county that can help someone in need, like Crisis Services and Spectrum Health’s 24/7 phone line and our C.A.R.E.S. initiative for youth and their families.  The Coalition works together on broad issues, like a regional gun storage and safety map, so people can temporarily remove guns  from a friend or family member who may be inclined to hurt themselves. (Almost half the deaths by suicide in our country happen with a firearm). Recently, we put together a short, five-minute video covering the use of language in talking about suicide– that I encourage everyone to view: Language Matters: How to talk about suicide. Together we celebrate the small victories that are also huge: death from suicide in Erie County has decreased by almost 20% from last year to this year at this time. Sadly, gun violence and deaths from opioid overdose have increased.

I’ve been in this field for more than 40 years, and while I am proud and humbled to help hoist the yellow awareness flag with my colleagues every year at the Rath Building (this year’s event is Friday, September 10 at 11am), it’s a bittersweet moment, too.  It’s inevitable that counselors, like doctors, can’t save every life in their practice. I mourn with and for the family members, those strong survivors, who have to cope with a deeply painful loss. I share the feelings of helplessness that clinicians feel when their words and interactions can’t help someone turn their life around. Most importantly, I feel the tremendous amount of hope that we can save lives one life at a time, and I am so encouraged by our efforts to raise awareness of the public on what they can do to reduce suicide in our community.

Bestselling author Matt Haig (his novel The Midnight Library is a must-read this year) considered taking his life at age 24. He faced his depression and lived to write several other books, including his account of his depression in Reasons to Stay Alive. He writes “Soak up the views. Take in the bad weather and the good weather. You are not the storm.”  It’s a powerful reminder that every day is a new opportunity. Every person we meet can be the one who will make a difference, and like Glinda the good witch said to Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, “You had the power all along.”

Bob Cannata

Vice President of Crisis Response Services

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