Stopping Suicide By Speaking Up
Sunday, September 08, 2019
Suicide claimed 47,000 lives in the U.S. in 2017 — nearly 2 ½ times the number of homicides that year, and 1.4 million people attempted suicide. It’s the 10th leading cause of death, and second among people ages 10 to 34, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.
The statistics are daunting. What can any of us do about this epidemic?
The answer: learn the warning signs of suicide and speak up if you’re concerned that someone is having suicidal thoughts. That simple act can interrupt the ideation, establish a connection and prevent them from becoming a statistic.
National Suicide Prevention Week begins today, Sept. 8, and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention has launched a #BeThere campaign to highlight the power of reaching out. A public-private partnership with more than 250 partners, the National Action Alliance has set a goal of reducing the suicide rate 20 percent by 2025.
Warning Signs of Suicide
The National Institute of Mental Health identified these warning signs:
- Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves
- Talking about feeling empty, hopeless, or having no reason to live
- Making a plan or looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online, stockpiling pills, or buying a gun
- Talking about tremendous guilt or shame
- Feeling trapped, with no solutions
- Experiencing unbearable pain, emotional or physical
- Worrying about being a burden to others
- Using alcohol or drugs more often
- Acting anxious or agitated
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Changing eating and/or sleeping habits
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Taking great risks that could lead to death, such as driving extremely fast
- Focusing on death frequently
- Displaying extreme mood swings
- Giving away important possessions
- Saying goodbye to friends and family, making a will
Risk Factors for Suicide
People who have experienced child abuse, bullying and/or sexual violence are at increased risk for suicide. Men are four times more likely to die by suicide (although women make more attempts than men) and people under age 24 or above age 65 are at higher risk, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. NAMI also lists these risk factors:
- A family history of suicide
- Substance abuse
- Intoxication (More than one in three people who die from suicide were under the influence.)
- Access to firearms
- A serious or chronic medical illness
- Prolonged stress
- A recent tragedy or loss
- Agitation and sleep deprivation
Five Action Steps
If you suspect a family member, friend, neighbor or coworker is having suicidal thoughts, talk to them.
“People have the misconception that by asking the question, ‘are you thinking about taking your life?’ it will put the idea in the person’s head, but that’s not true,” said Mary Vineis, NewBridge Services director of Community Response and Education. “If they have the idea, the question provides them the opportunity to start a conversation and offers hope.” Offer to go with them for help and call 911 if necessary, Vineis said.
The National Institute of Mental Health recommends these five action steps when confronted with a person you suspect is suicidal:
- Ask. While it may feel awkward, ask, ‘Are you thinking about killing yourself?’
- Keep them safe. Keep them away from lethal items and places.
- Be there. Ask questions and listen to what they are thinking and feeling.
- Help them connect. Make sure they get in touch with a mental health professional or someone very close to them.
- Stay Connected. Follow up with the individual afterward because that can reduce the risk of a subsequent crisis.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273–TALK (8255), or New Jersey’s round-the-clock suicide prevention hotline at NJ HOPELINE, 1-855-654-6735. Crisis chat is accessible through the website.
NewBridge has made helping people learn how to respond effectively to mental health crises through Mental Health First Aid training a priority. “The goal is to arm as many adults as possible with skills to recognize when a person is in crisis and effectively intervene,” Vineis said. NewBridge began doing has been teaching MHFA for adults since 2013, and has added specialized trainings for helping children and adolescents, and college students. Learn more here or contact Vineis at email@example.com or 973-686-2228.
NewBridge offers individual counseling for adults and children grappling with suicidal feelings, as well as family counseling. The nonprofit provides suicide awareness training for educators so they can identify students at risk and get them the services they need. NewBridge also runs in-school and community education programs to help individuals identify the signs and symptoms of depression.