Let’s face it, suicide is hard to talk about — even more so with someone who may be at risk. But when someone you know shows signs of serious emotional distress and hopelessness, talking about it may save a life. The fact is, more people die by suicide each year than in car accidents, almost twice as many die by suicide than by homicide, and about 70 percent of people who die by suicide told someone beforehand. So let’s start talking.
September — Suicide Prevention Month — is a great time to begin the conversation. Together we can bring this issue to light, and discuss how we as the NFL community, and other communities beyond the NFL, can work together to save lives.
“Suicide prevention starts long before a crisis reaches a suicidal point,” says Dr. John Draper, the director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which offers 24/7 support to people at risk and the general public. “Males are notoriously less likely to seek support or open up about emotional strife than women. But always trying to be a ‘tough guy’ can allow issues to build up over time,” Draper says. In fact, 80 percent of people who die by suicide are men. All the more reason we need to be talking about this in our NFL community.
“If you are in emotional pain, or know someone who is, it is the brave and smart thing to seek support,” he says, “for yourself and for the people who care about you.”
For members of the NFL family — current and former players, coaches, team and League staff, and their family members — the NFL Life Line offers that support. The result of a partnership between the NFL and the administrators of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Veterans Crisis Line, as well as national mental health experts, the NFL Life Line is an independent, confidential support hotline and online chat service. Any member of the NFL family can call (800) 506-0078 or chat online to access 24/7, immediate support and resources for a variety of issues. And because it is operated outside of the League, no information is shared with the NFL unless an individual is at imminent risk and sharing that information might save a life. This is a completely independent and confidential service developed exclusively for the NFL family.
“Our team has learned a lot about how to help people effectively who are in crisis — not only from our work with the national lifeline, but also from our work with the veterans and members of military service,” Draper says. “Research on our hotlines has shown that our counselors can effectively reduce distress and suicidal thinking in callers.”
So how can you make a difference during Suicide Prevention Month? Knowing the signs that someone may be feeling suicidal is the first line of defense. Many warning signs look a lot like depression, such as social isolation, hopelessness, helplessness, or agitation. Triggering events like the loss of a relationship, health crises, or financial problems, or major life transitions like leaving the NFL or a job, can also cause significant distress that might be reason for concern.
If someone tells you, “Life is not worth living” or “I wish I was dead,” take these statements seriously. Such thoughts are not as uncommon as you might think: One in 30 adults each year will have some type of suicidal ideation, and just because someone is thinking of suicide does not mean that person will kill himself or herself. However, it is a sign of serious, significant emotional pain, and indicates a critical need for support.
If you are concerned that a person is considering suicide, be direct. Ask, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” Contrary to popular belief, asking someone in distress if the individual has thought about suicide will not give that person the idea to take his or her own life. In fact, it will likely feel like a relief to talk about it. If someone is thinking about suicide, stay with the person, connect the individual with a medical professional or the NFL Life Line, and let that person know you are there for him or her.
Suicide Prevention Month is also a great time to build community connections that provide emotional support. Research shows that having caring contacts with others can have a significant impact on suicide prevention. Who knows more about how to support one another than the NFL community — where being part of a team is at the very core of the NFL experience? You can help someone you are concerned about by reaching out to the person, helping him or her to join in networks of friends and peers, and then consistently checking in to see if that person is OK. Something as minor as making a regular phone call, sending a text message, or grabbing a bite to eat can keep people from hurting themselves.
Suicide prevention means being a good teammate during your NFL days and beyond, on the field and off. So take a moment this Suicide Prevention Month to reach out to someone you’ve lost touch with — or someone you think may be struggling. And if you’re concerned about someone, call on the confidential NFL Life Line for support and referrals to resources.
You never know the impact of that single gesture or increased connection. So reach out this month; you could unknowingly save a life in the process.
About Dwight Hollier, LPC, NCC: Dwight is a 9 year veteran of the NFL and a National Board Certified Counselor and Licensed Professional Counselor with extensive experience working with adolescents, families, and adults around a variety of clinical and non-clinical issues. Dwight is currently the Director of Transition and Clinical Services for the National Football League working in the Player Engagement Department overseeing the Total Wellness initiative and Life Platform.
About Ciara Dockery, Ph.D.:
Ciara Dockery is a clinical psychologist for Link2Health Solutions, Inc. and the training and outreach manager for the NFL Life Line. Throughout her career, Dr. Dockery’s main focus areas have been public outreach and large-scale mental health program development as well as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) interventions. In her previous role at the New York State Office of Mental Health, she served as the statewide coordinator for Project Liberty, the $132 million Federal Emergency Management Agency-funded mental health outreach response to the events of 9/11. She also served as the first network development coordinator during the development and implementation of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration-funded National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK). Dr. Dockery has also previously worked in CBT and DBT private practice in New York City.
Dr. Dockery has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Harvard University, where she graduated cum laude. She received her doctorate in clinical psychology from Fordham University. She also has a master’s in journalism from New York University.
Dr. Dockery grew up as part of the greater NFL family as her father, John Dockery, is an alumnus and played 6 years in the league both with the New York Jets and the Pittsburg Steelers. He won a Super Bowl with the Jets in 1969’s Super Bowl III and currently resides in New York City.