Editor’s note • This article discusses suicide. If you or people you know are at risk of self-harm, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24-hour support at 1-800-273-8255.

I went to prom with my best friend in 2018, and now he is dead.

He is just one of thousands of people who will pass away this year, but it wasn’t the COVID-19 pandemic that took his life. It was a much quieter passing. The second leading cause of death in young adults that will never cause a stay-at-home order or riots in the streets. A silent pandemic.

Suicide.

Ben had a contagious, roaring laugh which revealed his Mt. Everest-sized dimples that lit up his face and brightened the room. He was the most hilarious person I will ever know.

I mean, I don’t pee my pants for just anyone.

At the end of his life he was suicidal, but no one knew — because no one ever asked.

Stressful life events, such as unemployment, lead to suicidal thoughts and behaviors. The 2008 recession caused an unprecedented spike in national suicide rates. It is estimated that the 2020 recession will spark the highest rates of suicide in American history. The state of Utah should be especially worried, with state suicide rates surpassing the national average in every age group. The time is now to embrace deep conversations about suicide.

My friend Ben was a son, brother and an astounding friend, but he was not the first nor the last to succumb to suicide regardless of a strong family support system.

Utah leads the nation in traditional family values with more households headed by married couples, and the largest percent of households raising children than any other state. Strangely, Utah also scores the sixth highest suicide rate in the country. How are Utah’s young adults crumbling when they are built on a foundation of family relationships?

We suffer from a false sense of security because of the extensive web of connections we have here in Utah. Family nights, church activities and extended family get-togethers define the culture. However, suicide rates continue to rise, which suggests that these interactions don’t solve feelings of inadequacy.

Being a close family is not enough. Suicide must be discussed to be prevented.

Have you honestly ever asked someone if they were suicidal?

I never even considered it.

But then Ben passed away.

It’s been five months now and, from this loss, I gathered new bravery. I have since asked two people the question. The one that makes our hearts cringe when we can’t imagine uttering the syllables off our lips.

“Are you suicidal?”

Both individuals affirmed that they were victim to suicidal thoughts.

Quarantine has disconnected us. Even strong relationships feel distant and the pain of isolation has simply been accepted. I worry about this silent pandemic. In talking about suicide, many of us fear that discussing it may push a suicidal person toward the act.

According to “The Anxiety and Depression Association of America” these distressed individuals have reduced problem solving skills and are stuck in their narrow minded, dark thoughts. However, when interceded by other individuals, new solutions appear, and they can see positive paths for the future.

Discussing suicide helps individuals to acknowledge their feelings and address them with solutions. We need to wield suicide in conversations like lives depend on it — because they do.

I will never stop wondering how many times I failed to ask “the question” when it needed to be heard.

I know of at least one.

Emily Walker

Emily Walker is a junior in the public relations program at Brigham Young University. She has written blog content for the Mutual App and Sprout Kids Furniture.