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HUNTINGTON — Calls to the National Suicide Lifeline from people in West Virginia have increased significantly this year.

This July, there were 1,052 calls for help, a 43% increase in calls for help over last July, according to First Choice Services, which operates the West Virginia hotline.

While the increase is likely related to the pandemic, Sheila Moran, director of marketing and communications for First Choice, said the specific reasons people mention for calling varies.

"Maybe there are more arguments happening in the house, but that's happening because mom got laid off because of the pandemic," Moran said. 

Moran said most of the time, clients are just looking for someone who will listen to them without fear of judgement or someone trying to "fix" the situation.

"It's natural to want to fix the problem, but sometimes you just need someone to listen," she said. "You don't need a college degree in psychology to help someone. You just need to listen."

Moran said the increase can also be seen as a good sign, as more people are reaching out for help.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for West Virginians ages 10-34, and a significant cause of preventable deaths across all age ranges. Between 2010 and 2019, 3,445 people in the state died by suicide.

September is Suicide Prevention Month. This year, everyone is encouraged to be part of suicide prevention by recognizing they can “Be The 1 To” help those around them in emotional pain. The campaign, which includes the hashtag “#BeThe1To,” emphasizes that anyone can save a life. Although seeking treatment from a professional therapist is beneficial to many, research shows that having a friend with whom to talk frankly about emotional issues can decrease the incidence of suicide.

Ways anyone can “Be The 1 To” to prevent suicide include these:

  • Ask directly about thoughts of suicide. Listen to them and acknowledge their pain. Avoid telling someone not to talk about suicide or dismissing their feelings by telling them they will be fine, or others have it worse.
  • Be there for them, even if it’s not possible to be there in person. Let them know you will make time to listen to them.
  • Keep them safe. If they are actively planning suicide, this may mean talking to others around them about their plans, securing lethal means such as firearms or getting them to a hospital or treatment center.
  • Help them connect with support and resources. This might mean connecting them with support groups, social services or mental health resources. A good place to start is with the National Suicide Lifeline, which is 1-800-273-TALK.
  • For children and youths in crisis or needing behavioral health support, another resource to get connected with services in their communities is the Children’s Crisis and Referral Line of Help4WV at 1-844-435-7498.
  • Follow up with them. Don’t assume that having one conversation is enough. Send a text, email, postcard or make a call to let them know you care.

Taylor Stuck is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch, covering state government, health and higher education. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

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