With suicide on the rise, South Florida has a community resource with broad shoulders | Opinion

September is National Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. High-profile suicide attempts and a dramatic increase in local demand for mental-health services are indicators of the impact social and economic stressors are having on South Florida residents.

Thoughts of suicide affect people of all ages and backgrounds. These thoughts are often grounded in mental illness that has not been addressed.

These events also highlight the importance of community-based social services organizations and the crisis network that serves the entire country. Jewish Community Services of South Florida (JCS) provides an array of mental-health services, including managing the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

The demand for 988 services has grown dramatically as desperation and increasing needs take their toll on our community in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, including lingering emotional, health and economic effects. In the past 12 months alone, the number of crisis calls to the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, operated by JCS, increased by 28%. And the 53% spike in crisis chat/texts managed by the JCS Lifeline team is even more alarming, for this often is the communication method preferred by teens and young adults.

These increases can be attributed to a host of socio-economic and physical health factors in a post-pandemic economy. These stressors are further aggravated by the 22% increase in the cost of living over the past three years, which includes the effects of the pandemic and the housing affordability crisis, along with increases in the costs of food, utilities, insurance and transportation.

Our community is not alone in this epidemic of emotional stressors. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). U.S. rates reached an all-time high in 2022, with 49,500 people known to have died by suicide last year alone. CDC information to date suggests suicides are more common in our country now than at any time since the beginning of World War II.

JCS is proud to serve as our community’s safety net to help alleviate the suffering with which so many of our friends, neighbors, colleagues, and loved ones are silently grappling. Counselors with the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline offer free, confidential crisis counseling support 24/7/365 in English, Spanish, Creole and most all other languages.

The Lifeline in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties is made possible through the generous funding provided by The Children’s Trust, Thriving Mind South Florida, the Florida Department of Children & Families, United Way Miami and Vibrant Emotional Health.

Lifeline counselors have made more than 10,000 referrals for ongoing counseling beyond initial crisis calls. They will provide free crisis intervention to members of our community struggling with thoughts of suicide, anxiety or depression. In addition to round the availability for phone calls, support services also are available by texting 988.

Together, we can make a difference by spreading knowledge, reducing the stigma associated with mental illness and seeking treatment, fostering empathy and providing support. Learn the warning signs if you or someone you know needs help.

If you or a loved one is experiencing hopelessness, anxiety, dramatic mood changes, increased alcohol or drug use, trouble sleeping or withdrawing from friends and family, call 988 to speak to a trained JCS Helpline Counselor.

Miriam Singer is president & CEO of Jewish Community Services of South Florida.