September is observed as Suicide Prevention month in the US and World Suicide Prevention Day is September 10th. Suicide rates are the highest they have been in 30 years which makes suicide prevention more important than ever.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:
- 123 Americans die by suicide every day
- Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death
- For every completed suicide, 25 people attempt
- Firearms account for 51% of all suicides
- Men die by suicide 3.5 times more often than women, but women attempt twice as often
- White males accounted for 7 of 10 suicides
- Suicide rates are highest in middle ages, 45-64 years old
What can you do to prevent suicide?
The first step to preventing suicide is education about the topic.
Who is at risk for suicide?
Suicide does not discriminate. People of all genders, ages, and ethnicities can be at risk for suicide. But people most at risk tend to share certain characteristics. The main risk factors for suicide are:
- Depression, other mental disorders, or substance abuse disorder
- A prior suicide attempt
- Family history of a mental disorder or substance abuse
- Family history of suicide
- Family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
- Having guns or other firearms in the home
- Incarceration, being in prison or jail
- Being exposed to others' suicidal behavior, such as that of family members, peers, or media figures
Suicide doesn’t happen suddenly
There are always warning signs, even if they are subtle.
- Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
- Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online or buying a gun
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or isolating themselves
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Displaying extreme mood swings
A great way to learn about suicide and mental health issues is to take a Mental Health First Aid course.
Here are some helpful do’s and don’ts when talking to a suicidal person. Remember, if the person is in immediate danger do not leave them alone and call 911 if necessary.
- Be yourself. Let the person know you care, that he/she is not alone. The right words are often unimportant. If you are concerned, your voice and manner will show it.
- Listen. Let the suicidal person unload despair, ventilate anger. No matter how negative the conversation seems, the fact that it exists is a positive sign.
- Be sympathetic, non-judgmental, patient, calm, accepting. Your friend or family member is doing the right thing by talking about his/her feelings.
- Offer hope. Reassure the person that help is available and that the suicidal feelings are temporary. Let the person know that his or her life is important to you.
- If the person says things like, “I’m so depressed, I can’t go on,” ask the question: “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” You are not putting ideas in their head, you are showing that you are concerned, that you take them seriously, and that it’s OK for them to share their pain with you.
- Argue with the suicidal person. Avoid saying things like: "You have so much to live for," "Your suicide will hurt your family," or “Look on the bright side.”
- Act shocked, lecture on the value of life, or say that suicide is wrong.
- Promise confidentiality. Refuse to be sworn to secrecy. A life is at stake and you may need to speak to a mental health professional in order to keep the suicidal person safe. If you promise to keep your discussions secret, you may have to break your word.
- Offer ways to fix their problems, or give advice, or make them feel like they have to justify their suicidal feelings. It is not about how bad the problem is, but how badly it’s hurting your friend or loved one.
- Blame yourself. You can’t “fix” someone’s depression. Your loved one’s happiness, or lack thereof, is not your responsibility.
There are many different reasons people complete suicide. Mental health issues are a primary cause, but there are other factors as well including:
- Sense of burden (would my loved ones be better off without me)
- Emotional pain (how much suffering is in my life)
- Escaping negative feelings (is death the answer to ending this pain)
- Altered social world (is death the answer to my troublesome social relationships)
- Hopelessness (is there evidence my life is going to get better)
Fighting the stigma
The term suicide usually comes with very strong feelings and stigmas. Some individuals feel suicide is a selfish act. However, a majority of suicides are completed because the individual felt they were a burden to their family and friends and that the world would be a better place without them. We are all entitled to our own beliefs, but the take away is this: Suicide is 100% preventable. We can fight the stigma of suicide by having open conversations about it. When we start having open conversations about suicide we also fight the stigma surrounding mental health. This helps break down barriers that prevent individuals from seeking treatment they need.