Know the signs to prevent suicide
In 2019, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Data & Statistics Fatal Injury Report for 2019, 47,511 Americans died by suicide in that same year.
The same report indicates that there were 1.38 million suicide attempts. Those most at risk of suicide are middle-aged white men, a trend that has been rising for the last decade. Since 1999, the rate of suicides in the U.S. has been steadily increasing from 10.5 per 100,000 persons in the population in 1999 to 14.24 in 2018. While the rate in New York is slightly lower at 8.28 per 100,000 persons, suicide is one of the most preventable types of death.
Many studies support that COVID-19 has increased our awareness of the need to be intentional in taking steps to support mental wellness for all of us. The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, the Education Development Center and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention commissioned a Harris Poll which surveyed persons regarding barriers to seeking help in July of 2020. The survey revealed that many consider embarrassment, lack of hope, social stigma, lack of knowledge about how to get help, and lack of access to treatment as primary factors in seeking help with mental health struggles. All of these factors are preventable.
How do we help one another in addressing mental health needs and preventing suicides? There are some specific steps that you can take. The National Institute of Mental Health recommends the following:
¯ Know the warning signs of suicide: Talking about wanting to die or kill oneself, looking for a way to kill oneself, feeling hopeless or having no purpose, talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain, talking about being a burden to others, increasing the use of alcohol or drugs, acting anxious or agitated or reckless, sleeping too little or too much, withdrawing or feeling isolated, showing rage or talking about seeking revenge, displaying extreme mood swings (from the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education website).
¯ Asking someone directly, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” Although it can feel uncomfortable asking, studies show that asking the question does not increase suicides or suicidal thoughts. Asking the question can give someone permission to show vulnerable thoughts and feelings that they’ve been having. It lets them know that you care.
¯ Keep them safe. By reducing the individual’s access to lethal or dangerous items, we reduce the risk of the person taking action. Asking the person if they have a plan to harm themselves and removing parts of the plan can truly make a difference.
¯ Be there. Listen to what the person is saying, thinking, feeling and take it seriously. Research suggests that acknowledging thoughts and feelings may reduce rather than increase suicidal thoughts.
¯ Help them connect. Keep and share the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number (1-800-273-TALK) and the Crisis Text Line (741741). Or call the St. Joseph’s Addiction Treatment & Recovery Open Access Center (518-354-5390) or the Citizen Advocates Crisis & Recovery Center (518-483-3261). Both are available 24/7 for any behavioral health crisis. Also helping the person connect with a trusted family member, friend, spiritual advisor, or mental health professional is important.
¯ Stay connected. Be there during the crisis but also stay in touch after the crisis and after being discharged from care. Following up with an at-risk person often reduces risk of suicide.
Other additional resources include: www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/suicide-prevention, https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Pass this information along. You can be a part of saving someone’s life.
Deceil Moore is a certified community behavioral health clinic project director at St. Joseph’s Addiction Treatment and Recovery Center.