This week I’m compelled to write about suicide. More specifically, I want to stand up and say that we can prevent suicide. We exist in networks with other people. Our family, neighborhood, village, workplace, faith community and school are places where we interact with others. Ideally, our networks are places for us to know, care, and help each other. They are places to find community. But that doesn’t always happen.
We might work with someone every day but be like strangers.
We might pass someone in the hall and say "heh," but have no idea how that person is feeling.
That person might be considering suicide. We might not even notice.
Many people have thoughts of suicide when they are hurting deeply. Most people who consider suicide find a way to go on with their life, often by receiving the support of family, friends, and professionals. Some people in crisis do not find a way to go on. The thoughts of suicide don’t go away. A tragic ending is the result. Usually people in this situation do not want to end their lives-- they want to end their pain. They view suicide as a way to solve the problem of their pain.
I have talked with many people considering suicide in my work as a mental health professional. Some were younger than age 10. Some were older than age 60. They were men, women, teens and children. I’ve known educated, intelligent, capable and strong people, who had thoughts of ending their lives. Yes, you read that last line correctly. Anyone can have a time of extreme crisis in their life when thought processes are not operating in healthy ways and suicide is considered. Feelings of isolation are common among those at risk of suicide. In times of crisis, a caring and supportive person can make the difference between life and death. You might be that person for someone.
· In the United States, suicide rates go up in the spring.
· Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death in young people ages 15-24.
· Suicide is the 4th leading cause of death in people ages 18-65.
· Suicide is the 5th leading cause of death in children ages 5-14.
· Every 15 minutes someone dies by suicide in the United States
When someone dies by suicide, the pain for surviving family and friends is heart wrenching. In addition to grief, it can include puzzlement, anger, and intense times of wondering what if. People often blame themselves for not doing more while the person was alive. They might even wrongly take responsibility for the death. The sad fact is, we cannot bring someone who is dead back to life. The hopeful fact is, we can work together to prevent suicide of someone else. This is something we can do. Let’s make prevention a priority in our communities.
So, how do we focus on prevention of suicide? Here are three things we can all start on:
First: Know the warning signs
Some people are really good at hiding the fact that they are considering suicide. But in many, if not most situations, there are warning signs that indicate a person is in crisis. They include:
· Feeling hopeless, desperate, or trapped (can’t see a way out, can’t imagine life getting better)
· Talking about suicide or threatening to hurt self
· Withdrawing from friends, family and usual activities
· High risk behavior or extreme recklessness
· Marked change in mood
· Extreme depression
· Purposelessness (can’t see a reason to keep living or expressing a wish to die)
· Increased substance use or change in substance used
· Can’t sleep, eat, work, or play
· Can’t get control or make the pain go away
· Uncontrolled anger or revenge
· Restlessness, anxiety, or extreme agitation
· Can’t think clearly or can’t make decisions
· Making a plan (can include getting the means to die, such as pills or gun as well as giving away special possessions)
Second: Connect and listen
If you see these warning signs, speak up and talk to the person! Do it even if it feels uncomfortable or strange. Connect and listen. Ways to start this type of conversation include saying: “I’ve noticed some differences in you lately. How are things going? How’ve you been feeling?” Or, “How are you doing? You don’t seem quite like yourself. Can we grab a cup of coffee/soda together and talk?”
People often think asking someone if they are feeling suicidal or having thoughts of hurting themselves will give them the idea and make it worse. This is not true. You can’t make someone feel suicidal by asking. Asking shows you care. It can make a person feel less alone and less hopeless. The person might feel a big sense of relief to talk about it with someone else. Many people who had suicidal thoughts have said talking with someone stopped them from a suicide attempt. A caring human exchange has great power.
It can be awkward to ask, but it can save a life. Ask gently, but ask clearly with words such as, “Are you feeling so badly that you have thoughts about hurting yourself?” If the answer is “no”, great. If the answer is “yes”, professional help is needed. Continue your connection and listening. Don’t leave the person alone. Take the situation seriously. Don’t promise to keep things secret. (Note: this is especially important for teenagers to be aware of.) A life is at stake. Get help immediately from a trained professional who knows how to continue evaluating the risk and take the needed steps to keep a suicidal people safe.
Third: Know how to get help
Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room if the crisis is acute.
Call a suicide hotline, like 1-800-273-TALK to connect immediately to a trained specialist at a local crisis center. Hotlines are for people considering suicide or people concerned about someone else. The call is confidential and free. Why not put 1-800-273-TALK into your phone contact list after you are done reading this article and forward this article to others? It might save a life.
Let’s work together to excel as a community that cares.
If you’d like to read further on suicide prevention, or find a mental health professional, online resources include:
http://www.afsp.org The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
http://www.therapistlocator.net or http://www.therapists.psychologytoday.com to find a qualified mental health professional in your area.
http://www.whatadifference.samhsa.gov for people dealing with mental illness and their friends