Bringing suicide out of the darkness: Raising awareness, removing stigma

September 5, 2018 Providence Health Team

Each one of us is on the front lines of the suicide epidemic. We can pay attention, ask questions, listen without judgment and be present for those who are suffering.

First, take notice and be mindful of the people around you. Does someone seem depressed? Hopeless? Isolated? 

Reach out to him or her. Listen with empathy. If you have concerns, ask direct questions.

Are you thinking about killing yourself?

Do you have a plan to do so?

Do you have the means available to you?

“We have this fear about talking to people about suicide,” says Robin Henderson, Psy.D., Chief Executive, Behavioral Health for Providence Medical Group in Oregon and clinical liaison to Well Being Trust. ”Ask how they are. Talk with them. Stay with them. Be with them.”

Henderson has been working for years to bring behavioral health into the medical mainstream. Well Being Trust, an independent public charity established by Providence St. Joseph Health, aims to advance the vision of a nation where everyone is well and remove the lingering stigma associated with seeking help for behavioral and mental health.

“It used to be ‘cancer’ was the ‘C word,’” she says. “You’d never say the word ‘cancer’ out loud.”

That’s the place behavioral or mental health is in now. Many people are reluctant to acknowledge that they or their loved ones are struggling.

“We’ve got to find a way as a society to turn the corner on mental health,” says Dr. Henderson. “It’s treatable and curable, just like many cancers.”

Grim statistics

Depression is an illness, a potentially fatal one. And it is as egalitarian as a heart attack, stalking the office worker and the artist alike.

Suicide rates are climbing, according to statistics compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in this country, taking the lives of roughly 45,000 Americans each year. Suicide call centers say they’ve noted an increase in the volume of calls over the last couple of years.

And here’s a sobering statistic from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: For every person who takes their own life in this country, another 25 make the attempt. Many of those will try to do so more than once. Some will eventually succeed.

Forging resilience

Part of addressing mental or emotional health is to remove the stigma around seeking help and equipping the medical system to provide it more efficiently. But another key technique is building individual and community resilience.

“Resilience is an amazing thing,” says Dr. Henderson, who equates it to children who build up their resistance to disease by getting dirty playing outdoors. They come home needing a bath, but with heightened resistance to various bugs in the environment.

“The same thing happens with the mind,” she says. If we can’t accept setbacks, we will suffer. Adversity is useful.

“Recovering from failure builds resilience,” Dr. Henderson says. “It teaches us what we need.”

Resources about suicide

Some signs that someone may be contemplating suicide include: withdrawing from friends and activities; speaking of helplessness or powerlessness or being wronged; giving away possessions; acting recklessly and other changes in behavior. (See others at

Cat Zingano for Providence #HealthBeat: Warning Signs of Suicide

If you notice behaviors like these, reach out and offer to talk.

“It doesn’t cost anything to be kind,” says Dr. Henderson. “It doesn’t cost anything to reach out and help someone.”

The National Suicide crisis line, which is staffed 24 hours a day by trained staffers and volunteers, is reachable at 1-800-273-TALK. Calls are confidential and anonymous. Don’t hesitate to call — that’s why they’re there.

If you’d like to talk to a Providence provider about emotional health or anything else, you can find one near you in our online directory

AK: Providence Medical Group Behavioral Health Services

CA: Providence Psychiatric ServicesSt. Joseph Hospital Behavioral Health Services; Mission Hospital Mental Health & Wellness

MT: Providence Behavioral Health

OR: Providence Behavioral Health

WA: Providence Psychology – Spokane; Providence Medical Group, Olympia Psychiatry; Swedish Behavioral Health

Learn how Providence St. Joseph Health is advancing the future of mental health. For more information about the Well Being Trust, which is focused on bringing emotional health into the same conversation as physical health, visit the non-profit’s website.

Join PSJH in bringing suicide Out of the Darkness

Caregivers, friends and families are invited to join Providence St. Joseph Health in multiple Out of the Darkness Walks taking place in September and October 2018 in the communities we serve. Providence St. Joseph Health is proud to help sponsor this campaign, which is organizing walks nationwide. It’s a step in the right direction to address the rising rate of suicide in the United States.

Providence St. Joseph Health has teams at the following walks. Read the testimonials of our team captains. Go to to learn more.

Sept. 9 – Arcata Plaza, Arcata, California; Registration: 9 a.m. and Walk: 10 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Sept. 15 – Silver Park, Missoula, Montana; Registration: Noon and Walk 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.

Sept. 15 - Heritage Park, Olympia; Registration: 8:30 a.m. and Walk: 10 a.m. to Noon

Sept. 20 – Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, California; Registration: 8:45 a.m. and Walk: 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

Sept. 22 – Mile Square Park, Fountain Valley, California; Registration: 8:00 a.m. and Walk: 9:30 – Noon

Sept. 22 – Riverfront Park, Forestry Shelter, Spokane, Washington: Registration: 8 a.m. and Walk: 10:00 – 11:00 a.m.

Sept. 29 - Boxcar Park, Everett; Registration: 9 a.m. and Walk: 10:15-11:30 a.m.

October 6 – Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Portland, Oregon; Registration: 8:30 a.m. and Walk: 10 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Oct. 6 – Howarth Park, Santa Rosa, California; Registration: 8 a.m. and Walk: 10 a.m. - Noon

Oct. 14 – Fisher Pavilion - Seattle Center, Seattle; Registration: 9 a.m. and Walk: 10:15 a.m. to noon

Oct. 14 – Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX; Registration: Noon and Walk: 3:15 – 4:15 p.m.

Nov. 3 – Central Park, Pasadena, CA; Registration: 7:45 a.m. and Walk: 9 a.m.- noon

Recommended for you:

Cat Zingano, UFC fighter, discusses how she has coped with her husband’s suicide with Clayton Chau, M.D.

How to help someone in the midst of a mental health crisis

Confronting a rising tide of suicide deaths

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

Previous Article
How to host a healthy holiday, featuring Express Care
How to host a healthy holiday, featuring Express Care

Follow these quick tips for a healthier holiday gathering. If symptoms show up to the party, Express Care c...

Next Article
7 healthy strategies for getting over someone after a breakup
7 healthy strategies for getting over someone after a breakup

Breaking up is hard to do, but finding and applying healthy coping strategies doesn’t have to be.