September Is Suicide Prevention Month

Five things you can do

Posted Sep 24, 2015

This month, organizations and individuals from across the globe are rallying to prevent suicide. Many people have shared their thoughts and inspirational images on Twitter, which you can view using hashtags such as #suicideprevention and #suicideawareness. Check out some recent updates on the topic by clicking this link.

In a climate where even celebrities are vulnerable to suicide, awareness is at an all-time high. But stubborn myths about suicide persist, and the suicide rate shows no signs of plummeting. Cutting through the myths about suicide is key to stemming the tide of self-harm, and could even save the life of someone you love.

If you or someone you love are in crisis now, please call the National Suicide Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Suicide is More Common than You'd Think, Especially Among Some Groups

If you don't know someone who has committed suicide, or you don't spend much time talking about mental health issues, you might operate under the mistaken belief that suicide is a rare occurrence, limited only to those with severe mental health problems. But suicide is more common than you might think, with more than 41,000 people killing themselves in 2013 alone. This makes suicide the tenth-leading cause of death in the United States, with a suicide taking place every 12.8 minutes.

Many people mistakenly believe that teens are more likely than any other group to kill themselves, probably because suicide is the third-leading cause of death among this demographic. But suicide rates among young people are actually declining. Instead, it's older adults at the highest risk. Almost 20% of all suicides occur among people aged 41 to 64. People aged 85 and older are experiencing a sudden surge in suicides. Men are about three times as likely as women to commit suicide, accounting for more than 70% of all suicides.

Most Suicides Come With Warning Signs

Predicting suicide is not a science, and some people who commit suicide give off few or no warning signs. But most suicides come with a bevy of red flags, and knowing the signs that someone you love is considering suicide can help you intervene before it's too late. Some signs that a loved one may be considering suicide include:

  • Giving things away, especially beloved possessions.
  • Talking more about death, drawing up a will, or making plans for a funeral (unmotivated by coping with a serious illness)
  • Threatening suicide, or writing a suicide note.
  • Talking about a sense of hopelessness.
  • Signs of depression followed by a sudden improvement; some people feel better after they devise a suicide plan.
  • Increasingly aggressive or risky behavior.
  • Abuse of substances such as alcohol, street drugs, or prescription pills.

A recent loss, such as being fired at work or going through a divorce, can trigger  suicidal thoughts or behaviors.  Access to means to commit the act further increases the risk.

Hotlines Are Not Enough

Suicide hotlines are important tools for getting quick assistance to intervene on behalf of someone you love. But suicide hotlines alone cannot stop the plague of suicide. These hotlines offer quick assistance and referrals to services, not professional counseling. For this reason, you should not rely on a suicide hotline to “fix” your loved one's suicidal feelings. If you're able to sit with and support your loved one, consider doing so, since feeling supported can go a long way toward reducing a person's desire to harm him or herself.

Mental Illness and Substance Abuse are Risk Factors

The majority of people who kill themselves struggle with a mental illness such as depression or addiction to a substance such as alcohol or cocaine. If someone you love struggles with mental health issues, be mindful of other suicide risk factors. Ask your loved one how they're feeling and check in frequently. If your loved one isn't getting professional help, consider encouraging them to do so, sine the right combination of therapy and medication can eliminate suicidal feelings. Some antidepressants increase suicidal thoughts in the first weeks after a person begins taking them, so if your loved one is on a new drug, consider spending extra time with him or her.

Suicide is Not an Attention-Seeking Method

In the popular media, people sometimes threaten suicide to gain attention, but this is a plot device, not a reflection of reality. Anyone who threatens suicide is at risk of following through with those threats—even if the threats feel manipulative. Someone in enough distress to threaten suicide is in sufficient distress to follow through with those threats, no matter what else is going on. Never ignore, diminish, or judge a suicide threat, and remember that professional help is the best course of action for a suicidal loved one.

References:

Facts and figures. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.afsp.org/understanding-suicide/facts-and-figures

Youth suicide. (2015, March 10). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pub/youth_suicide.html