Acknowledge People: The Simplest Way Prevent Suicide

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and I had the opportunity a couple of weeks ago to speak at the Utah State Board of Education Suicide Prevention Summit. I met many extraordinary people there doing very important work to build awareness and help reduce the suicide rate, including Taryn Aiken Hiatt, a Utah Board Member of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP Utah), a SafeTALK/Mental Health First Aid/Working Minds and CONNECT Certified Trainer.

“The simplest thing (to prevent suicide) is to go back to being a human. We recognize people, we say hi to people, we reach out and we acknowledge people. There’s nothing fancy,” said Taryn.

Even though we met at a suicide prevention event for youth, executives and corporate leaders are struggling as well. The depression rate among CEOs is double the national level of 20% and some studies show as many as 50% of CEOs have suffered from depression at some point.

It can be quite lonely in the C-suite. Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks said serving as a CEO “has been difficult—and lonely.” Long hours, pressures to compete, lots of travel, people who doubt you. Dealing with investors, customers, suppliers, employees and juggling the day-to-day while innovating and planning for a successful future.

As a former president of a tech company, the good outweighed the bad in my experience. But, if someone is in a dark place they may need help to overcome regardless of how many good times there were in the past or will be in the future. 

Each one of us can be the light they need. We need to be aware of the messages people are telling us. Take the time to really see one another.  

“We forget the power we have as humans to be kind to one another. Recognize each other. Maybe we need to find out each other’s stories. Empathy and compassion, it’s all it takes,” said Taryn.

Listen to Taryn’s video about the warning signs of suicide:

If you or someone you know is struggling, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255 or reach out to me at 801-783-7373.

When we acknowledge one another, we can do our part to reduce these staggering numbers: 

  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
  • Each year 44,193 Americans die by suicide; on average that's 121 suicides per day.
  • The rate of suicide is highest in middle age — white men in particular.

Every single day 20 U.S. veterans take their lives. Earlier this month, I was invited by Senator Thatcher and his wife Summer to attend the showing of "Thank You for Your Service" at the Utah State Capitol. Summer was involved in making this incredible film that's about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and United States soldiers who try to adjust to civilian life after returning from Iraq.

We owe it to every single man and woman who has served our beautiful country to understand the sacrifices they gave to protect us. Acknowledge them. See them. And thank them for their service. 

You just never know when a smile or a "How are you doing today?" will be the exact message someone who is on the verge of suicide needs to hear. 

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