September is Suicide Prevention Month. Nearly 800,000 people (43,000 Americans) die by suicide every year. Twenty-five times as many attempt but fail. Raising awareness and making the subject no longer taboo are two key requirements if we are to make progress in suicide prevention.
Studies have resulted in the identification of risk factors and warning signs for suicide as follows:
Rick Factors – In the general population, a prior suicide attempt is the single most important risk.
There is a link between mental illness, especially depression and alcohol use disorders, and suicide. In addition, people who experience conflict, abuse, violence, disaster, or who are isolated have a strong association with suicidal behaviors.
Some occur impulsively (e.g., following relationship break-ups or financial difficulties). Rates are highest in vulnerable demographic groups who experience discrimination (e.g., LGBTQ, non-native ethnic groups). For two decades, suicide rates have increased among men ages 45-64 and girls 10-14.
Warning Signs – Suicidal people are at acute risk if they talk or write about wanting to, or threaten to, harm or kill themselves. The risk significantly increases if they have determined how and secured the means to carry out their plan (e.g., bought a gun; obtained pills).
Other signs include feeling hopeless and having no sense of purpose. Sometimes they present as anxious, agitated, or full of uncontrolled anger.
They may experience mood swings, impulsively engage in risky behaviors, increase their (ab)use of substance, and become increasingly isolated. Another sign is a depressed person whose mood suddenly improves, followed by giving away prized possessions.
So, what should we to do if we hear of, or observe, someone who fits the above description(s)? Here are strategies for prevention:
Prevention – We are reluctant to ask if the person is thinking of suicide for fear it will give her/him ideas not otherwise there; however, that is exactly the first thing to do.
If the answer is yes, the person minimally needs to be evaluated by a professional. If s/he has thought of how to kill her/himself, especially if s/he has the means to carry it out, immediately call 911.
Remove lethal means (e.g., guns, knives, pills). While you wait, have the person speak with a trained counselor by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255; press “1” for Veterans’ Crisis Line; or, engage in distracting activities (e.g., play cards or video games) until help arrives.
Let’s pay attention to what’s going on with people and together, we can save lives!
Stockton is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor and owner of Inner Peace Coaching & Counseling located at 4030 Mount Carmel Tobasco Road in Cincinnati, OH. For more information, call 513.201.5949 or visit www.lindastockton.com.