Project Semicolon Promotes Suicide Prevention & Mental Health Awareness
Suicide, tragically, is all too common. Not only is it a sign that someone’s suffering was so intense they felt it necessary to end their life, but it leaves in its wake a trail of additional victims: friends, family, loved ones, and entire communities.
Project Semicolon is a nonprofit dedicated to the prevention of suicide. Founded in 2013, the organization has helped some 5.2 million and believes, according to their website, “suicide is generally preventable” and “is the collective responsibility of each and every person on the planet.”
“In literature, an author uses a semicolon not to end a sentence, but to continue on,” Amy Bleuel, the creator of Project Semicolon, told The Mighty in 2015. She added, “We see it as you are the author and your life is the sentence. You’re choosing to keep going.”
Amy used the semicolon symbol as a way to honor her father who died from suicide and as a way to help others dealing with depression and mental illness find hope.
To date, 2017 has brought two high-profile suicides. Chris Cornell, one of the original creators of the rock genre “Seattle Grunge” and front-man for the iconic band Soundgarden, as well as Audioslave. At Cornell’s funeral in May, the lead vocalist for the rock band Linkin Park, Chester Bennington, said a few words.
“My name is Chester. I had the great privilege of being a friend of Chris and invited to be a member of his family,” Bennington told the mourners at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Just two months later, in July, Bennington took his own life at his home in Los Angeles.
Mental illness and suicide have become such a part of the zeitgeist that the video-on-demand service Netflix produced a somewhat controversial series this year called “13 Reasons Why.”
The show is about a suicide victim, a young woman, who left recordings for a boy she had a crush on, with 13 reasons why she took her own life. Television shows and films about mental illness are not new, but they can be a valuable tool that raises awareness around the issue of suicide.
The Statistics of Suicide
Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia puts into perspective the disconcerting statistics on suicide. These include some of the following:
- Every year 34,598 people die from suicide, an average of 94 people a day
- Across all age groups, suicide is the 11th leading cause of preventable death
- A staggering 894,950 people attempt suicide each year, which is one person every 38 seconds
- On average, emergency rooms across the country see nearly 400,000 patients a year for self-inflicted injuries
- College campuses deal with an average of 1,000 suicides annually
- Among young adults aged 15 to 24, suicide is the third-leading cause of preventable death
- Among people aged 25 to 34, suicide is the second-leading cause of preventable death
Why Do People Become Suicidal?
There are any number of factors that can play into why a person might become suicidal: from addiction to alcohol and drugs to depression, bipolar disorders or even eating disorders, such as anorexia.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), reports almost 44 million Americans – approximately 18.5 percent of the population – battle an episode of mental illness every year.
Complicating matters is the fact that a vast majority of people living with mental illness use alcohol and drugs to self-medicate, which can lead to addiction and magnify whatever mental disorder is plaguing them. This is known as a dual diagnosis or a co-occurring disorder.
Managing Addiction and Mental Illness
Both mental illness and addiction are treatable conditions that people can recover from. Each illness though, must first be diagnosed, which isn’t always a simple matter of seeing a family physician before the conditions can be treated individually.
In many cases, addiction and mental illness are chronic diseases and must be managed with medication, counseling, self-care and support.
Episodes of depression can cause relapses and vice versa, leading to guilt and shame and thoughts of suicide.
Project Semicolon notes that 75 percent of suicide victims share their plans ahead of time. Therefore, it’s incumbent on friends, family, educators and everyone to reach out to those they believe might be struggling. Even small actions can make the difference to saving a person’s life.
Sadly, 31-year-old Amy Bleuel, Project Semicolon’s founder, lost her more than 20-year fight with mental illness and took her own life earlier this year. Michael Shields, CEO of the project, had this to say:
“Today, although sad, we’re reminded of the reason why Project Semicolon exists. Suicide has the ability to strike at the heart of the very cause aims to eliminate it. Today we lost a giant and from this day on, together, we’ll carry her legacy forward.”
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