RALEIGH — Suicide is a statewide and national public health crisis impacting people of all ages across all socioeconomic, racial and ethnic backgrounds. Suicide awareness is key to saving lives, and with September recognized as Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services remembers those affected by suicide and is raising awareness of treatments and resources available to everyone in the community.
In 2022, 1,539 North Carolinians ages 10 and older died by suicide, making it the ninth leading cause of death in the state and the second leading cause of death for people between the ages 10-40. For every death by suicide in North Carolina in 2022, there were two hospitalizations and eight emergency department visits for self-inflicted injury, totaling 2,969 hospitalizations and 12,287 emergency department visits.
“Every life is important. We support the dignity and inherent worth of every person in North Carolina,” said NCDHHS Secretary Kody H. Kinsley. “Let’s come together as individuals and as a community so no one loses their life to suicide.” (View video message from Secretary Kinsley.)
NCDHHS has been leading the work on one of the state’s largest resources for suicide prevention — 988. This three-digit suicide and crisis lifeline connects people via call, chat or text to a trained counselor who will listen, offer support and provide community resources 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Since its launch in July 2022, the department has seen a significant increase in North Carolinians reaching out for support, proving 988 is a powerful resource for those in mental health or substance use crisis to get the help they need.
“There are so many people who struggle with their mental well-being,” said Kelly Crosbie, MSW, LCSW, Director of the NCDHHS Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Use Services. “It’s OK to need help, and it’s OK to ask for help. We have to break the stigma and spread awareness about the importance of mental health. Reducing stigma and eliminating barriers to care are key components to saving lives in North Carolina and are also instrumental to one of the department’s top three priorities to address behavioral health and resiliency.”
Data from 988 suggests simply having a person to talk to can really help in a moment of crisis, and connecting to short- or long-term care can also make the difference between life and death. NCDHHS encourages communities to talk about mental health and normalize these conversations. Partners across North Carolina — from schools to faith groups to organizations that work with teens and their families — are helping spread awareness. They have ordered print materials to provide advice to teens about how they can take that first step to reach out for help and are working with NCDHHS to encourage everyone to visit www.ncdhhs.gov/opentocare.
“Suicide is preventable. NCDHHS has worked with partners to create the North Carolina State Suicide Prevention Action Plan to increase access to evidence-based services that prevent suicide, support mental health and reduce substance use disorder,” said Assistant Secretary for Public Health Dr. Susan Kansagra. “Through these ongoing efforts, NCDHHS is committed to decreasing suicide attempts and death by suicide.”
In partnership with UNC’s Suicide Prevention Institute, and with funding directed by Governor Roy Cooper, NCDHHS is adding a State Suicide Prevention Coordinator who will help coordinate the state’s suicide prevention efforts, per one of the goals outlined in the Suicide Prevention Action Plan. The position will sit jointly between UNC and NCDHHS. This is a longstanding recommendation of the NC Child Fatality Task Force to help support and align this work across North Carolina.
The department also offers programs for interested individuals, communities, and organizations:
Faith Leaders for Life: An online program and peer learning training for faith-based organizations. People often rely on faith leaders for guidance and support during life stressors. This program teaches faith organizations about being a support to those at risk of suicide.
Start with Veterans: An online training for anyone who interacts with veterans or active military. North Carolina has a high number of veterans and active military who receive a variety of community services including health care, housing, benefits, etc.
Counseling on Access to Lethal Means: The leading method of suicide is by firearms and the leading method of suicidal injuries seen in emergency departments is from overdoses. CALM teaches care providers to explore with a person at risk and/or their families how to make the home environment safer during the at-risk period.
Gatekeeper Training: Several programs of various duration are available to teach a person how to recognize the signs and symptoms of suicide and link to care.
Firearm Safety Teams: Community-based teams who are interested in promoting education and safe storage as it pertains to firearms. Several teams already exist in North Carolina.
988 is available to anyone, anytime. If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Risk factors for suicide include:
History of depression or other mental illness
Recent life crisis
Physical, emotional or sexual abuse, including bullying
Previous suicide attempt
Call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org. Individuals who speak Spanish can now connect directly to Spanish-speaking crisis counselors by calling 988 and pressing option 2, texting “AYUDA” to 988, or chatting online at 988lineadevida.org or 988Lifeline.org. Please add 988 to your phone.