The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that suicide rates increased in nearly every state from 1999 through 2016 and more than 30 percent in half the states during that time, making suicide a leading cause of death in the United States.
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, but the Memphis Crisis Center, the area’s free, 24/7 crisis intervention hotline, is working every day to reduce those grim statistics.
Executive Director Mike LaBonte encourages anyone facing a life challenge and in need of a compassionate listener to call the confidential hotline at 901-Crisis7 or 901-274-7477.
“Don’t wait to get help, go ahead and reach out,” he said. “There is hope and you’re not alone. Your life is worth a phone call.”
Last year, the center saw a 57 percent increase in suicide calls. Of roughly 21,000 crisis calls annually, more than 3,000 had a suicide focus last year. “We also appear to be seeing a rise in higher risk calls – people who have active suicide plans when they call,” he said.
The center saw a spike in suicide calls in the wake of the suicides of designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain in early June, LaBonte said. “Two weeks prior to these celebrity deaths, we received about 70 suicide-related calls. The two weeks after, it was 190.”
Nationally since 1999, suicides are up by 25 percent, according to the CDC’s latest report. In Tennessee, every day an average of three people die by suicide, the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network (TSPN) reports.
According to the TSPN, suicide rates for males are generally four times higher than those for females. The number of suicides in Tennessee increases with age through ages 45 to 49, then levels off before spiking again after age 75. As of 2015, suicide was the third-leading cause of death for young people ages 10-19 in the state.
LaBonte stresses that the center is ready to help with all types of crisis calls. “We’re a full-service crisis line,” he said. Calls come in from people dealing with domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, and elder abuse, as well as financial and health issues.
“The vast majority of the calls we get are coming from people who are sad, lonely, or facing a life challenge,” he said. “So we’re here providing not just crisis intervention, but emotional support services as well.”
The volume of calls mean more volunteers are always needed to answer them. Potential volunteers should contact the center at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 901-448-2803. The University of Tennessee Health Science Center partners with the Memphis Crisis Center providing its call center, training facility, and administrative offices on the UTHSC campus.
While September focuses particular attention on suicide prevention, LaBonte’s message is the same year-round. “I want people to know that if they are struggling, if they are in need of assistance, there is somebody here 24/7 who is available to listen to them, to help them work through a crisis situation, and also to link them with any of the community resources they’re going to need in the long term to help them pull their way through that,” he said.