New Jersey's suicide prevention helpline handled more than 32,700 calls between February and August of this year.

That's up 17% compared to the same time frame in 2019. But the monthly count of individuals taking their own lives appears to be moving in the opposite direction compared to years past, at least according to preliminary figures, despite a health crisis that's forced many people out of jobs and into isolation.

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According to figures shared by the New Jersey Department of Health, the Garden State saw 36 suicides in July, the latest month for which statistics are available. July's count last year was 62, and 63 in 2018. The 39 suicides counted in June 2020 is half the amount recorded in 2018. May 2020 saw about 20 fewer suicides than May 2019 and May 2018.

The DOH noted the data should be considered preliminary and subject to change, and that it's too early to examine the data for trends. Many deaths by suicide require investigation follow-up and toxicology testing, so there's a delay in finalizing one's cause and manner of death.

"Suicide is a complex health issue with so many contributing factors," said Elizabeth Clemens, New Jersey-area director with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. "It's not a foregone conclusion that rates will increase during this time."

Either way, the 2019 total tally — 723 suicides — suggests there's a person choosing to take their own life every 12 hours in New Jersey.

As part of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, advocates and officials in New Jersey are highlighting the immediate resources available for individuals in crisis, or those who know someone who's potentially struggling with suicidal ideation.

In partnership with Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care, the state operates several 24-hour anonymous and confidential helplines:

  • New Jersey Suicide Prevention Hopeline (NJ Hopeline), 1-855-654-6735
  • Vet2Vet, for veterans and their families, 866-VETS-NJ-4
  • Cop2Cop, for law enforcement officers and their families, 866-COP-2-COP
  • 2NDFLOOR Youth Helpline, 1-888-222-2228

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255. Individual agencies across New Jersey man phone lines with volunteers as well, and texting is an option for those who may not feel comfortable speaking over the phone.

"We're very fortunate to have multiple resources throughout New Jersey," Clemens said. "The person who would answer the call is a trained individual."

The New Jersey chapter of AFSP, as well as other chapters across the country, are hosting virtual education programs during the health crisis. Through Talk Saves Lives: An Introduction to Suicide Prevention, participants can learn more about common risk factors and warning signs associated with suicide, and hear the most up-to-date research on prevention.

The state Department of Human Services registered 27,987 calls to the NJ Hopeline from February through August in 2019, and 32,729 over the same period this year.

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