Suicide. The word itself triggers alarm, fear and pain.

While still in shock over the loss of Kate Spade, the news of Anthony Bourdain’s death by suicide was met with disbelief and grief across our nation. Spade and Bourdain were accomplished individuals who were loved by many and enjoyed much of what the world has to offer.

Their deaths, and suicide itself, forces us to confront hard truths. We are learning more and more how mental health struggles and the pace, pain and pressures of everyday life can cloud the mind, fuel rumination, make burdens seem impossible to bear and increase feelings of isolation. No amount of fame or fortune, relationship or romance, can solve or prevent mental illness. There is more going on in the hearts and minds of our celebrities, loved ones, neighbors and those sitting next to us in the pew on Sunday than we would ever imagine.

Alarmingly, the suicide rate in America is growing, now claiming over 45,000 lives a year. Suicide is shaking families, schools, churches, and communities.

Many of us probably feel helpless in the face of what seems like neverending reports of suicides, but we can fight this epidemic. We can make a difference. Here are some practical steps you and I can take today:

Extend kindness. Reach out to friends who may need someone to talk to. Meet a need they have or provide a kind, encouraging word. Don’t assume that someone else will show them the care they are desperate for. And know that the one who’s struggling the most may not be the most obvious.

Save and share the suicide hotline prevention number. Make sure that every coach, pastor, teacher, small group leader, and community leader you know is aware of this resource — 1-800-273-8255.

Make sure that local community leaders are aware of the signs of serious depression and also know who in the community to refer to for mental health issues. Many churches, counselors, schools, hospitals and community centers have great lists of resources already put together.

Become educated on mental health. Knowledge is power. Read recent research studies and use social media to follow reputable organizations conducting mental health research and advocacy. Learn about the signs to watch for and pay close attention. Don’t take chances — if you know or even suspect someone is wanting to harm themselves, let authorities know.

Join the fight to destigmatize issues related to mental health. Share accurate information about the prevalence and treatment of mental health issues. Do not shy away from the topic. Respond to those who disclose mental health issues with compassion and grace.

For those who are on the front lines of helping others, and want more training on suicide prevention and recovery, this innovative curriculum offers what you need to incorporate effective prevention and intervention strategies.

We are dealing with a global mental health crisis, one we must confront as we would any other humanitarian crisis. Suicide in our culture has been taboo for far too long – but that has to change. We can all become better equipped to help individuals struggling with thoughts of suicide. If the past few days have shown us anything, it’s that there’s no time to lose.

* This article previously appeared in The Christian Post on June 14, 2018 and can be viewed here: