This past week has been recognized as National Suicide Prevention Week with World Suicide Prevention Day taking place tomorrow, September 10th. Suicide affects millions of people each year – those who have attempted or successfully completed suicide and family members and loved ones who have lost someone to suicide. However, suicide continues to be a topic that is often avoided in conversation.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, with one suicide occurring on average every 12.3 minutes. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in the US among 15- to 24-year-olds. It is estimated that more than 1 million people attempt suicide each year and approximately 4.8 million individuals are survivors of suicide. Most individuals who attempt or commit suicide do not necessarily want to die; they want to end the intense pain they are experiencing. When suicidal thoughts and behaviors are detected early and are discussed and dealt with, lives and families can be saved.
Below are warning signs that may lead to suicidal thoughts and behaviors as well as ways to support someone experiencing them and how to find appropriate help:
- Talking about killing themselves or a preoccupation with death
- Voicing that they are a burden to others
- Researching methods of suicide or ways to gain materials they can use to harm themselves
- Withdrawing from activities they typically enjoy and isolating from family and friends
- Giving away their belongings
- Writing letters to others, visiting others, or calling others to say goodbye
- Feelings of hopelessness and expressing that they have no reason to live
- Acting recklessly or aggressively
- Expressing that they feel trapped in a current situation or emotional/physical state
- A change in sleeping patterns
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Extreme mood swings
- A sudden burst of happiness or calmness
Ways to support someone experiencing suicidal ideations:
- Talk about it! This is difficult but expressing that you are concerned and asking them to talk about their suicidal thoughts will show them you care and will provide them with relief and support.
- Listen when they talk. Provide supportive and non-judgmental responses.
- Help them to stay safe by staying with them until professionals arrive or by removing any items they could hurt themselves with (ie: firearms, knives, ropes, etc.)
- Ask them if they have a safety or support plan in place or if they would like to make one. These usually include family/friends/professionals they can contact in a situation like this or positive coping skills that help them manage their intense thoughts and moods or reasons that they can identify to continue living.
- Contact emergency services. If you are unsure how severe someone’s thoughts and intentions of suicide are call 911, a local crisis center, or a suicide hotline (National: 1-800-273-8255; Local: 1-800-499-7455). Or take them to a local crisis center or to a hospital ER immediately. Let the professionals intervene and decide how to handle the situation.
- Support them in finding appropriate treatment with a therapist and/or psychiatrist
- Surround yourself with support as well; do not handle this situation alone
Remember, the first and best way to prevent suicide is to talk about it. The more suicide is talked about, the more awareness it brings so that suicidal thoughts and behaviors are recognized and dealt with appropriately in a supportive manner.
Thank you for your interest in this very important subject.
Katherine Lloyd, MA, LPC
PA Licensed Professional Counselor for Adolescents, Young Adults, and Families
National Suicide Statistics from the American Association of Suicidology (2016, January). Retrieved from http://www.suicidology.org/about-aas/national-suicide-prevention-week
Risk Factors and Warning Signs from the American Association for Suicide Prevention. Retrieved from https://afsp.org/about-suicide/risk-factors-and-warning-signs/
Suicide Prevention (2016, May). Retrieved from http://www.helpguide.org/articles/suicide-prevention/suicide-prevention-helping-someone-who-is-suicidal.htm