This is a guest post on the subject of suicide prevention and National Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month.
September has long been recognized as National Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. Many healthcare institutions take this month as an opportunity to spread awareness of the rise in suicide rates in our nation and, more importantly, how to prevent suicide altogether.
Raising awareness during September and beyond is imperative in helping our communities recognize indications of suicidal ideation and promptly connect individuals with the appropriate mental health care service or provider. It is equally important to recognize those who have lost loved ones and to offer support. By coming together to shed light on such a vital topic, healthcare providers, families, and communities as a whole can ensure important resources are more readily available so that everyone has the tools necessary to promote healing.
Know the Statistics
While statistics about our nation’s mental health crisis may be jarring, they reinstate the gravity of this public health issue. According to data gathered by the CDC in 2021:
- 48,183 lives were lost due to suicide in 1 year (1 life taken every 11 minutes)
- Suicide was the second leading cause of death for teens ages 10-14 and young adults ages 20-34
- Almost 12.3 million adults in America seriously considered taking their own life, while 1.7 million attempted suicide
- In the state of Illinois specifically, more than 1,400 deaths were related to suicide
Understanding and Combatting the Mental Health Stigma
The first step in reducing these statistics is destigmatizing mental health conditions and normalizing treatment. Historical evidence has shown the mistreatment of those suffering from mental illnesses, including improper care received at the United States’ earliest mental health hospitals and care facilities, and public shaming and shunning. Due to such tragic beginnings, our modern culture still struggles to understand the complexities of mental help, and to seek treatment when needed.
However, by continuing to raise awareness, provide education on the power of proper care and intervention, and advocate for loved ones, we can eliminate the stigma and encourage those who need help to reach out. The CDC recommends simple, practical ways everyone can make a difference:
- Create safer environments for individuals with suicidal ideations by removing access to weapons and substances
- Spread awareness of the resources available in your local area and nationwide
- Promote kindness and healthy relationships in communities
- Identify and support people you know who are at risk
- Follow up with someone if you know they have recently attempted suicide
Learn to Recognize the Warning Signs
No one is immune to experiencing thoughts of self-harm, no matter their age, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Therefore, warning signs may not always be identified until it’s too late. Many elements may be contributing to an individual’s suicidal thoughts—be vigilant in identifying common warning signs and behaviors in someone who is:
- Battling depression, chronic pain, or a chronic illness
- Comes from a family with a history of violence, abuse, mental disorders, substance abuse, or suicide
- Experiencing relational troubles or is dealing with stressful life events
- Dealing with harassment, bullying, or discrimination
- Showing drastic changes in personal hygiene, eating/sleeping habits, substance abuse, or abnormal increased use of drugs and/or alcohol
- Obsessed with the idea of dying or often talks about death or wanting to pass away
- Expressing they don’t see the point in carrying on, feeling hopeless, or talking about feeling trapped or that there are no solutions to their problems
- Withdrawing from family and friends and refraining from participating in their normal activities (e.g. work, school, extracurricular activities, sports, hobbies)
- Shameful or who talks about being a burden to others, or who is saying goodbye to family and friends and giving away their belongings
- Participating in risky or reckless behavior that could lead to serious injury or fatality (e.g. reckless driving)
These warning signs are to be taken seriously and are cause for immediate action.
Kind, Compassionate Conversations Can Save Lives
Having uncomfortable conversations could profoundly impact and may even save someone’s life. If you recognize these warning signs, be sure to have a conversation with your loved one about what they’re feeling and let them know they can come to you when they are struggling. Be sure to truly listen to what they have to say and act on it. Promptly assist your loved one in taking the appropriate measures to seek and obtain help.
Here are some “Dos” and “Don’ts” to keep in mind for this difficult conversation:
- Be empathetic and provide your full attention to the individual right away
- Take them seriously
- Ask them how they’ve been feeling lately
- Directly ask if they are thinking about harming themselves or taking their own life— remember, talking about it may reduce their risk of self-harm
- Express your concern and understanding of their circumstance
- Tell them how you value them and care about them as a person
- Use gentle language and emphasize seeking professional care
- Help them connect to trusted resources; a hotline if needs are immediate, then a family member that lives with them, a spiritual advisor, or a mental health care provider
- Remove any access to weapons, ropes/cords, or pills from their environment if possible
- Talk to them while distracted (on your phone or while watching TV)
- Argue, threaten, or raise your voice at the individual
- Encourage them to act on their thoughts and feelings
- Treat this lightly or ignore this issue at hand
- Gossip about it; rather, inform important individuals in the at-risk persons’ life of their state
- Fail to follow up—suicide risk can diminish upon someone reaching out to the at-risk individual. Call or message that individual after your initial conversation to check on them.
How to Get Help
If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, remember there is always hope.
For immediate help:
- If you or a loved one are in crisis, dial 988 for the suicide and crisis hotline or visit their site to live chat with someone at https://988lifeline.org
- For emergencies, call 911
For More Resources:
For other prevention resources, visit the National Institute of Mental Health or the National Alliance on Mental Illness websites. Remember, there are caring people at the other end of all these free resources who value you and want to provide the necessary tools for a better life.
How SunCloud Health Can Help:
The staff at SunCloud Health is here to help you or your loved ones struggling with suicidal thoughts or depression. Contact us at (866) 729-1012 or visit our website to schedule a confidential consultation.
We are all responsible for the prevention of someone taking their life. By normalizing suicide as an issue, recognizing an individual’s struggles, and connecting them with the resources they need to heal, we can save lives together.
There is always hope for a better life. We’re here to help you achieve it.