Healthy Outlook: Learn about suicide prevention, how to help

photo by: Shutterstock image; Mackenzie Clark/Journal-World Graphic

Visit for more information about the 5 steps to help prevent suicide.

This is a topic that’s always in the back of my mind, and one that I’ve planned to write about for quite a while, but I was waiting for the right time. This week, I realized there is no wrong time — it’s always an important message.

The suicides of designer Kate Spade and CNN storyteller Anthony Bourdain made headlines this week, reminding the public that this can affect even those who put so much color into this world.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a new report on Thursday that lists the state of Kansas with the 19th highest rate of suicide and the fifth biggest increase from 1999 to 2016: 45 percent.

I lost my older brother Johnny to suicide 13 years ago. Although most of the time now it feels like a distant nightmare, every detail of that night is forever burned into my memory. The “what-ifs” will haunt my family and me for the rest of our lives.

The 12 suicide warning signs, according to the CDC, are: feeling like a burden, being isolated, increased anxiety, feeling trapped or in unbearable pain, increased substance use, looking for a way to access lethal means, increased anger or rage, extreme mood swings, expressing hopelessness, sleeping too little or too much, talking or posting about wanting to die and making plans for suicide.

You may notice that several of those items sound like signs of any number of other conditions, mental and physical. They are, and there are probably countless other signs. The only way to really know whether someone is OK is to talk to them, frequently.

It’s cliche, but my brother always seemed happy to me. The only one of these signs I might have recognized before it was too late was that he used to visit my parents and me almost every Sunday — except the one before the Tuesday he died. (What if I’d called him that Sunday? Could I have made a difference? This thought still gnaws in the pit of my stomach.)

photo by: Family photo

John M. Clark Jr.

Maybe I’m still in denial, but I don’t think any of us noticed other signs in him. Either way, I don’t think these symptoms are always as evident as we’d like to think they would be if one of our loved ones were in this position. Every single person is different, and everyone experiences and expresses things in a different way.

A web resource for journalists says I should “refer to research findings that mental disorders and/or substance abuse have been found in 90 percent of people who have died by suicide.” But according to the latest CDC report, that might not be true — rather, 54 percent of the group in that report did not have a known mental health condition. Although there may be indicators, no one is immune, and I think that’s an important point to stress.

According to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, “for every person who dies by suicide annually, there are another 278 people who have thought seriously about suicide who don’t kill themselves, and nearly 60 who have survived a suicide attempt.”

The lifeline’s campaign, #BeThe1To (save a life, found at, lists five steps to help someone who may be suicidal:

1: Ask, “Are you thinking about suicide?”

2: Keep them safe.

3: Be there.

4: Help them connect (to help, such as the Lifeline or a mental health professional).

5: Follow up.

The website explains why each of these steps is important and effective, as well as best practices to handle each step. Learning more about this issue could help you prevent an irreversible tragedy.

There is also mental health first aid training, to learn how to help those in a variety of mental health crises, available through Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center. Find more information at

If you are having suicidal thoughts, my message is simple: No matter your situation, someone can help you. Whether it’s one or hundreds of factors piling up and pushing you to a breaking point, there is help out there. Please reach out.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. Please save this phone number somewhere that you can easily access it. Even if you never need to call, someone else might.

You can also call the Lawrence-based Headquarters Inc. directly at 785-841-2345, text KANSAS to 741741, or chat with someone online at or Bert Nash can be reached at 785-843-9192.

The Douglas County Suicide Prevention Coalition is another group working to increase local awareness about suicide, prevention and resources. The group can be found on Facebook,, and on Twitter, @dgcspc.

About Healthy Outlook

Healthy Outlook is a column written by Journal-World reporter and Health section editor Mackenzie Clark, in hopes of helping readers make their lives a little bit happier, healthier and more active.

Have questions about the world of health and wellness in Lawrence, or a health story idea? Contact Mackenzie:


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