With September 5-11 marking National Suicide Prevention Week, it is important to bring the taboo subject of suicide into the public consciousness. As much as people have the tendency to try to leave this subject in the shadows, statistics show that one in 65 people have been directly impacted by losing someone they love to suicide, and one in five clinical psychologists will lose a client to suicide in the course of their clinical career. Whether we ignore it or not, suicide impacts all of us, and the more we understand it, the more likely we are to prevent it. An event like National Suicide Prevention Week serves as a valuable reminder for each of us to ask ourselves what we can do to help save a life.
When it comes to suicide prevention, the message each of us must remember is that, like depression, the suicidal state of mind is temporary. There are effective methods to help people stay alive and stop seeing everything, especially themselves, through the dark filter that leads them to consider ending their lives. The fact is that people who feel suicidal are ambivalent--part of them wants to die but part of them wants to live. When we reach out to them, we can connect with, support and strengthen the part of them that wants to live.
So what can we--as friends, relatives, therapists or even strangers--do to recognize that someone is considering suicide? How can we help a suicidal person see that life is worth living? What can we do to help alleviate the threat of suicide in our communities? This September 9 at 11 a.m. PDT, I will be hosting a free one-hour webinar "Understanding and Preventing Suicide," a presentation designed to teach the public and professionals the warning signs of suicide as well as the helper tasks that can save a life. The following is an introduction to key steps to preventing suicide that I will further detail in my presentation.
Help prevent people first from becoming at risk - Individuals and communities can provide outreach to persons who may be vulnerable to suicide. For example, if someone who has had previous trauma or depression undergoes an event that could make suicide seem more acceptable (i.e. loss of a job or a close relationship), it is important to reach out to that person and inquire as to how he is feeling and whether or not he is experiencing suicidal thoughts. By taking an interest in this person, we can help him feel safe and cared for and to cope with the painful event, rather than considering suicide as an option.
Recognize the warning signs - There are warning signs that indicate when a person is suicidal, but too often people aren't aware of them. Some of the signs include: disrupted sleep, isolation, loss of interest, extreme self-denial, lack of pleasure, intense self-hatred, feelings of not belonging or of being a burden to others, and suicidal talk (i.e. "You will be better off when I am gone."). They also include a significant increase in agitation or a sudden positive mood following a depression. You can see a full list of warning signs and learn more about these warning signs here. By learning these warning signs, we are all much more likely to identify those at risk for suicide and reach out to them before it is too late.
Learn the helper tasks - Once we suspect a person may be suicidal, we need to carry out a course of action that can help ensure her safety. We can engage that person by asking her directly how she is feeling and showing that we have real concern for her. We can then help her develop an action plan that will keep her out of harm's way and get her to the help she needs. When encountering someone you suspect may be suicidal, it's invaluable to know the complete list of helper tasks as well as the dos and don'ts of suicide prevention. In addition, someone who is feeling suicidal can learn coping strategies that can help her get through a crisis. Remember, if you or someone you know is in crisis or in need of immediate help call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).This is a free hotline available 24 hours a day to anyone in emotional distress or suicidal crisis.
Don't let suicide be a silenced topic - If we are concerned that someone is at risk for suicide, it is important that we ask him directly whether he ever considers suicide. By doing so, we are not planting the idea in this person's head, but we are offering him the chance to open up about thoughts he may have been keeping from the world. Allowing someone to talk about these feelings is crucial.
Don't glorify suicide - Too often the media makes the mistake of reporting on suicide in a manner that can actually increase the loss of life to suicide. Because media coverage does play a role in suicide rates, communities must demand that reporting on suicide is done responsibly. Suicide should never be glorified in any way. Solutions to problems and numbers to call should always be included in news stories. You can view a full list of reporting guidelines on suicide by clicking here.
Involve the Community - A community that experiences an increased suicide rate can bring together agencies to form a community-based trauma response network. When agencies collaborate, suicides are prevented. The alliance allows all of the people involved to respond in ways that stabilize the trauma and help all impacted to grieve, thereby enabling them to move on. When organized and working together, these agencies can provide an array of services to meet the concerns of various groups, including family, friends, and schools. Communities that have responded in this manner have been successful in stopping suicide clusters, assisting survivors, and getting individuals to the help they require. Click here to read about community response from the National Alliance on Mental Health.
Restrict Means - At The Glendon Association, a nonprofit mental health organization that works to prevent suicide and violence, our team has actively supported proven methods for suicide prevention on an individual and societal level. We have been involved in efforts to implement elements of our National Strategy for Suicide Prevention. One such element involves the restriction of means. Research has shown that there is a decrease in the suicide rate when access to lethal means is restricted. To learn more about this visit Means Matter.
Reach out to survivors - On average, every suicide leaves behind six survivors: friends and family who are personally impacted by the loss of the loved one. Those who have lost someone to suicide often suffer deeply with a range of emotions that are difficult to cope with alone. These individuals should never feel isolated in their struggles. There are ways to reach out to survivors and support groups that can help those who have lost someone to suicide get the support they need. Survivors can benefit from talking to others who can identify with their loss. Click here to locate a survivors of suicide loss support group in your area or click here to view the American Association of Suicidology's Suicide Loss Survivor's page.
For a comprehensive guide to preventing suicide visit PsychAlive's Suicide Prevention Advice page
Remember, if you or someone you know is in crisis or in need of immediate help call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This is The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a free hotline available 24 hours a day to anyone in emotional distress or suicidal crisis or who is worried about someone they love.