September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month: Athletes Getting Involved

Suicide prevention awareness month

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Suicide prevention awareness month
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness month. More specifically, the week of September 9 to September 15 is National Suicide Awareness Week. World Suicide Prevention Day is September 10.

Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death in youth ages 10-24.

90% of those who died by suicide had a mental health issue.

We all know suicide is more than statistics. It is, ultimately, about us, and a reminder for us to get vocal and to get involved in some way, however small. Athletes are people first, so they are also at risk for both mental health issues and for suicidal behaviors. But they have also become a vocal group for advocating for treatment.

Silence and Suicide

A word that comes to mind with suicide, for me, is silence. Silence from many different perspectives.

  • Silence in general about the topics of mental health and suicide.
  • Silence about the need to create more mental health resources available to people of all backgrounds.
  • Oftentimes, there can be silence from the person having suicidal thoughts. This person feels scared to speak about having internal struggles.  We have to help change this.

Reading the book, What Made Maddy Run reminds me of this silence. It brought to mind the frightening truth that we really might not know how much someone is hurting. The author, Kate Fagan writes about Maddy Holleran, who ran for the University of Pennsylvania. Maddy appeared happy, but was struggling inside and jumped to her death. As a psychologist, the story is a difficult reminder that you just may not really know someone’s story. I think we can keep trying to “hear” though and that is one message I took after reading her story.

  • Silence about the promotion of resources, when and where they are available, in schools, in universities, and in communities.
  • Silence from friends and family members who may not want to talk about losing a person they know from suicide. We must allow them to speak and to support them. A friend once told me the story about losing a family member to suicide and she wanted to talk with her dad about it. However, he told her he didn’t want to talk and had some negative things to say about it.  She said his reaction essentially “shut her up” until years later when she finally realized it was okay to talk about the experience and about her feelings.
  • And, finally, we might have our own silence about the topic. Maybe we are afraid to say the wrong thing so we say nothing. But we can change and there is hope.

Did you know……

According to the National Alliance for Suicide Prevention people are more likely to reach out to a friend compared to a healthcare worker if they are feeling suicidal.

This means we all need to be educated. Similar to CPR. It doesn’t mean we have to solve the problem but we can be the first responder and assist someone to get professional help. Also, this means, we need to know what to say to someone who is needing support. This is the best way to end some of the silence.

Athletes, Mental Health and Suicide

There is some complexity with athletes, sports and mental health and suicide. Some studies show that sports can be a protective factor. And that being part of a team can act as a buffer for stresses. This appears especially true for males in more traditional male sports. But athletes also face some challenges. These include hazing or willingness to engage in more risky behaviors that can put them at risk for mental health problems and possible suicidal behavior. Athletes who engage in using alcohol, drugs or taking anabolic steroids might also be at greater risk of suicidal behaviors. Finally, know that at times of injury, and transition in and out of teams can be an especially challenging time period.

What Can Friends, Coaches, and Others Say and Do?

We all need more education. We all need to ask for more education to take place in our schools and communities. Similar to the idea that knowing CPR can save a life, we need to learn a few basic steps we can take. And similar to knowing about some basic CPR techniques, we can learn basic support techniques we can do until more help from professionals arrives.

Steps: Ask, Assist, Educate

First, if you have concerns about an athlete or a friend or a family member, speak with this person. Ask the person if he or she is doing okay. Maybe you notice some changes in behaviors that you can mention. It is better to ask than to say nothing. Asking about suicide does not give a person “ideas” but instead, opens the door to dialogue. This does not mean you have to solve the problem presented. It means listening and being supportive.

Possible Warning signs

Withdrawing from typical social situations

Mood swings

Engaging in risky behaviors

Changes in eating and sleeping patterns

Saying goodbye to people

Talking about suicide

Second, offer to assist this person in getting connected to a professional.  Everyone can be a first responder for someone but our next step is to help someone get professional help. This is really an important step. You may go along to a first visit. Or you can offer to help make a phone call to a counselor or a national suicide hotline.
Third, educate yourself and share information and know your local and national resources so you can make quick connections.

Suicide Prevention Lifeline




Athletes Speaking Out

Athletes are human first so they also are not immune from mental health and suicide issues. But athletes are using their platform to help promote awareness and are part of a larger voice taking on the cause so we can prevent this from happening less and less. Washington State quarterback Luke Falk is wearing the uniform number of his teammate Tyler Hilinski who died by suicide. Another athlete at Rutgers discussed being affected by suicide and is working to become a guidance counselor to support others.
Even more athletes and schools are getting involved with the larger topic of overall mental health. Fresno State recently launched the #BulldogBraveBulldogStrong campaign – a social media campaign aimed at bringing awareness to mental health among students but especially athletes. And The NCAA has made mental health a top priority and has a page of resources.

There is progress. There is hope. Together we can all make a difference.


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