NEBRASKA -- Despite dire predictions at the start of the pandemic, the number of suicides fell by 5 percent overall in 2020. Experts hope to see the trend continue, and are using National Suicide Prevention Week to shine a light on some of the ongoing issues.
"It's not abnormal," said Tommy Newcombe, executive director of the Connection Project in downtown Norfolk. In fact, four times as many people die by suicide than homicide annually in Nebraska, according to statistics from 2018.
"If you go into a room and say 'who here has not had a thought of death or killing themselves,' there's not going to be many people," said Newcombe. But thanks to efforts such as the 8,000 people he's served in the past couple of years, Newcombe is seeing the culture change. He wants to make conversations around depression and mental health more comfortable, and continue to help people in northeast Nebraska.
He's not the only one.
"We are in the middle of a pandemic believe it or not and we still have a lot of cases [...] I mean you might have a relative in the hospital with COVID or life in general could be tough," Andres Sandoval of Midtown Health Center said. Sandoval presented a talk at Northeast Community College on Wednesday, Sept. 8.
After having worked with suicidal patients, Sandoval learned signs to look for: giving away items; buying weapons; or becoming at peace with death. You can learn about more signs here.
He notes if you or someone you know is suicidal: avoid isolation; cut off toxic people; and remember that "hope is something we can find, it takes time, it takes work," Sandoval said.
There are other resources available in town, too, such as the Connection Project.
"I think the experience walking in here is like 'oh this isn't imposing' -- it's a comfortable space and the folks here all had our own experience," said Newcombe. They offer workshops, counseling, and peaceful downtime. The Connection Project is open for walk-ins daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 204 West Madison Avenue. They will have a 'reptile petting zoo' event Wednesday starting at 3 p.m., among other events this week. The project will also participate in the Rally for Recovery at Skyview Park, Sept. 25 at 1 p.m.
"Talking about suicide prevention is so super important," he noted.