PTA leaders can spread hope and vital information to people affected by suicide

by Derby Pattengill, Vice President for Health and Community Concerns

Over the last year and a half, we have faced a pandemic, combined with a massive experiment in remote schooling, a racial justice movement stemming from police killings of Black Americans, as well as economic and political instability.  These events will have long-term effects on the mental health of students, teachers, school administrators and staff, parents, family members, friends, and acquaintances. We must make the time now to take care of ourselves and take care of each other.

Suicidal thoughts, much like mental health conditions, can affect anyone regardless of age, gender or background. In fact, suicide is often the result of an untreated mental health condition. Suicidal thoughts, although common, should not be considered normal and often indicate more serious issues.

Even before 2020, our young people were particularly vulnerable to having such thoughts. National data indicated that while 4.8% of all adults had serious thoughts of suicide, the same was true for 18.8% of high school students and 11.8% of young adults aged 18 to 25. Perhaps most alarming, nearly half of lesbian, gay, and bisexual high school students had serious thoughts of suicide. 

Did you know?

Individual Impact of Suicide:

  • 78% of all people who die by suicide are male.
  • Although more women than men attempt suicide, men are nearly 4x more likely to die by suicide.
  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10–34 and the 10th leading cause of death overall in the U.S.
  • The overall suicide rate in the U.S. has increased by 35% since 1999.
  • 46% of people who die by suicide had a diagnosed mental health condition.
  • While nearly half of individuals who die by suicide have a diagnosed mental health condition, research shows that 90% experienced symptoms.

Community Impact of Suicide:

  • Some of the highest rates of suicide in the U.S. are among American Indian/Alaska Native and non-Hispanic white communities.
  • Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are 4x more likely to attempt suicide than straight youth.
  • Transgender adults are nearly 12x more likely to attempt suicide than the general population.
  • Suicide is the leading cause of death for people held in local jails.

(Data from CDC, NIMH and other select sources.)

What Can I Do?

If you think a friend or family member is considering suicide, you might be afraid to bring up the subject.  Don’t be afraid.  

Talking openly about suicidal thoughts and feelings can save a life.  Talking about suicide will not give the person ideas about death.  The opposite is true–bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly is one of the most helpful things you can do.  The truth is, we can all benefit from honest conversations about mental health conditions and suicide, because just one conversation can change a life.

Tell the person that you are worried about them.  Mention the warning signs you have noticed.  Ask the person if they are thinking about suicide.  If they say they are feeling hopeless or considering suicide, take them seriously.

Listen with empathy and provide support.  Express concern and reassure the person. Someone who is experiencing emotional pain or suicidal thoughts can feel isolated, even with family and friends around.

Get informed about mental health and suicide prevention. The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) provides clear, helpful information on several topics:

If you need more information, referrals, or support, contact the NAMI HelpLine or visit

Know what to do in case of a crisis. 

  • If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call 911 immediately.
  • If you are in crisis or are experiencing difficult or suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255)
  • If you’re uncomfortable talking on the phone, you can also text NAMI to 741-741 to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor on the Crisis Text Line.

Help the person create a safety plan. A safety plan is a written list of coping strategies and sources of support for people who are at high risk for suicide, and it can help guide them through a crisis and keep them safe.  Make sure the person you care about keeps the plan easily accessible in case they have thoughts of hurting themselves.

Share information about suicide prevention with your school community. Learn more at This page offers tips for knowing the signs of suicide, how to find the words to talk about suicide, and highlights the advocacy work PTA has done on this topic on behalf of our members.   

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Sponsored by NAMI, it is a time to raise awareness on this stigmatized, and often taboo, topic. We can use this month to spread hope and vital information to people affected by suicide. It’s an ideal time to make sure that members of your community and your PTA have access to the resources they need to discuss suicide prevention and to seek help.