September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – a time to share resources and stories to shed light on a topic that is considered shameful or taboo in many social circles. Research has shown that 90% of all suicide victims experience mental illness. Mental illness can affect anyone of any age, gender, ethnicity, or background. No one should ever be ashamed or afraid to seek out medical assistance for this disease. You wouldn’t go around with pneumonia or the flu without seeking treatment, so why would you go around without getting treatment for something that could be life-threatening?
We, as a society have to do more to banish the stigmas and fear that surround mental illness, and the best way to do this is to talk about it. Discuss it openly and honestly. Do not be afraid to ask questions. Be a good listener and let them know that they are not alone. People who suffer from mental illness often feel ostracized, alone, ashamed, and afraid. It is everyone’s responsibility to be willing to listen without judging and look for the unspoken cues and behaviors that precede suicide.
Each year, more than 41,000 people die by suicide. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among adults in the U.S. and the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10 – 24 and these rates are increasing. This is alarming in every sense of the word.
While it is important to address the subject of suicide year-round, this month is used to reach out to those affected by suicide, raise awareness, and connect those who need help with the resources and treatment services. Everyone can do their part to help decrease the number of victims.
Know the Warning Signs
- Threats or comments about killing themselves (known as suicidal ideation)
- Increased alcohol and drug use
- Aggressive behavior
- Dramatic mood swings
- Impulsive or reckless behavior
- Social withdrawal from friends, family and the community
- Disinterest in things that were once enjoyable
- Talking, writing, or thinking about death
Imminent Danger Signs
Any persons exhibiting these behaviors should get care immediately.
- Mood shifts from despair to calm
- Saying goodbye to friends and family
- Putting their affairs in order
- Giving away possessions
- Planning the act (by searching for ways to borrow, steal, or buy the necessary tools needed to commit suicide, such as a firearm or prescription medications)
Know the Risk Factors
Research shows that 90% of individuals who die from suicide experience mental illness. There are a number of things that may put a person at an increased risk, including:
- Family history of suicide or attempts
- Prolonged stress
- Prolonged depression
- Substance abuse – use of drugs and alcohol can cause mental highs and lows that exacerbate suicidal thoughts
- Access to firearms
- Age – people under the age of 24 and over the age of 65 are at a higher risk of suicide
- A recent tragedy or loss
- Gender – although more women attempt suicide, men are more than 4 times more likely to die from suicide.
- A history of trauma or abuse
- A serious or chronic illness
- Intoxication – over one-third of people who die from suicide are found to be currently under the influence
- Agitation and sleep deprivation
If a friend or loved one shows signs of suicidal thoughts, it can be frightening and overwhelming. Ignoring the situation and not taking suicidal thoughts seriously can have devastating results. If you think a friend or family member might attempt to hurt himself or others, call 911 immediately. You can approach the situation in a number of ways.
- Remove means such as firearms, knives, or stockpiled pills
- Calmly ask simple and direct questions, such as “Can I help you call your psychiatrist or therapist?” rather than “Would you like me to call your psychiatrist or therapist?”
- Talk openly and honestly about suicide. Don’t’ be afraid to ask questions such as “Are you having thoughts about suicide?” or “Do you have a plan for how you would kill yourself?”
- Ask what you can do to help
- Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong
- Don’t argue, threaten, raise your voice, or otherwise demean them
- Stay calm; if you are nervous, try not to fidget or pace
- If your loved one is experiencing delusions or hallucinations, be gentle and sympathetic. Do not debate whether the delusions are real. In their mind, they are very real.
- If your loved one asks for something, provide it, so long as it is safe and reasonable.
- Be sympathetic and understanding; never judgmental.
- Validate their feelings and fears. Allow your loved one to know that they are being heard.
- Reassure your loved one of your unwavering love and support.
- Express your concern for their well-being and encourage him or her to lean on you for support.
Suicide is preventable. One of the best things you can do if you know or suspect that your loved one is contemplating suicide is to educate yourself. Learn what the warning signs are, and how it can be prevented. If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately. If you are uncomfortable talking on the phone, you can also text NAMI to 741741 to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor on the Crisis Text Line.
Let’s work together to end the stigmas and help prevent suicides.