September is National Suicide Prevention Month. This week, September 6-12 is Suicide Prevention Week. Suicide is a subject most people shy away from, it’s one of those subjects that is – taboo. Well, we can’t shy away from it, and we have to talk about it because it happens and it happens often. Suicide is in the top 10 causes of death in the United States, with about 50,000 people dying each year, and an estimated 1.4 million suicide attempts. With those numbers, we all know someone who has either attempted suicide, has been affected by suicide, or has even considered it.
We need to get the word out about this preventable epidemic, because it is preventable. Just as we call attention to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and other illnesses, suicide and suicide attempts need our attention as well. If we know and understand the risk factors, the available treatments, and what it takes to keep our friends and family safe – I have extreme hope that we can get these numbers lower. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for people 10-34 and the 4th leading cause of death for people 35-54. The overall suicide rate in the United States has increased by 31% since 2001. Someone you know may be hinting to you they need help, they may be actively crying out for help, and they may just be trying to disappear, but as I said, we must know the risk factors and how we can help.
Some of the most common risk factors pertaining to a suicidal individual include:
- Current or past depression. Depression can become overwhelming and too much to bear for some, and they feel suicide is the only cure. Other mental health issues further exacerbate those intense feelings; so a combination of mental health issues can lead to suicide.
- Substance abuse is another factor. Extensive and long-term drug use can lead to changes in the chemical makeup of the brain which can make an individual suicidal. One may also feel they will never get over their addiction, thus the only option is to end it all.
- Exposure to a traumatic event. Individuals with PTSD, survivors guilt, and maybe even a woman post-miscarriage are some examples of a ‘traumatic event.’ A traumatic event can be a wide variety of scenarios that overwhelmingly overcomes someone to the point of no return.
- Social Isolation. What is that? Well, now we’ve been in quarantine for months, unable to gather with friends and family on a regular basis which has left a lot of individuals “socially isolated.” Teens find a problem with this too. They fall out with a friend or friends and becoming the outcast; this has lead to an increase in teen suicide.
- Loss of a relationship.
- Legal and financial issues.
- Traumatic brain injury. For example, football players who’ve had several concussions over the years, diagnosed and undiagnosed that lead to CTE.
- Easy access to firearms.
- Unstable home life.
- Life threatening illness.
Suicide has proven to be no respecter of age. Children younger than 13 years of age are turning to suicide because of an increase in bullying, abuse, and feeling unwanted and unseen. It is up to each of us to help, you never know what an adult or a child in your life is going through. So how can you help? Each of us can be more supportive and a little less judgmental. Inquire about things going on with the people in your life. If you are around them enough, you may notice the change in mood, even the subtle ones. Offer support, even if they tell you nothing’s wrong. You don’t want to be pushy, but you do want to assure them that you are there should they need you. If they do bring you in, stay involved. The situation is delicate, and for all intent and purposes, deadly. It is not the time to be a flake. Abandoning them now would only bring up more issues. Finally, know the signs; which I will lay out for you next, and if there is a need – by all means contact a mental health professional.
What are the “Red Flags” you should be looking for? These signs can be very subtle, as to not draw attention to what they are planning, or as bold as a neon sign. Some who plan suicide may do one or more of the following:
- Seek out medication, controlled substances, or firearms.
- They may seek out friends and family to say their final goodbyes.
- Putting their affairs in order.
- Showing and expressing feelings of hopelessness.
- The may become easily agitated.
- Showing signs of shame in everything.
- Along with a host of many other signs that may be unique to that individual.
As I have said, most people don’t like to speak on the topic of suicide and it is a taboo type of subject. If you ask, a lot of people will say that it is selfish, it is the ultimate betrayal, and it is unforgivable. People think that way because they don’t understand the complete breakdown of the mental health issues behind the reason for an individual choosing to take their life. Suicide and suicidal thoughts can a affect anyone regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. I encourage you, not just in September, but each month of the year to check in with your loved ones. Ask the questions about how they are feeling, if there is something that is heavily weighing on them – especially if they are prone to depression and mental health issues. Use this month to share the stories of loss, reach out to someone you know who suicide has affected, take time to heal if you have been affected, raise awareness. Like mental health, we have to end the stigma attached to suicide and focus on preventing it from happening in the first place.
- If you know someone who is in immediate danger, call 911 immediately and thoroughly explain the situation to ensure that it is handled properly. If possible, contact the individual’s doctor if they are under care to let them know their patient is in crisis.
- If you are in crisis and need to speak with someone, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255).
- If you don’t think you can talk, text NAMI to 741-741 to actively text with a trained crisis counselor.