Suicide Prevention and Awareness
Some startling statistics:
Every year there are approximately 10 teen suicides for every 100,000 teenagers.
Every day there are approximately 11.5 teen suicides.
Every 2 hours and 15 minutes, a person under the age of 25 completes suicide.
Based on these alarming statistics, the Centers for Disease Control ranks suicide as the third leading cause of death for teens and young adults between the ages of 15-24. It also ranks suicide as the fourth leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 10-14.
Most everyone at some time in his/her life will experience periods of anxiety, sadness, and despair. These are nominal reactions to the pain of loss, rejection, or disappointment. However, when a person is unable to effectively handle such adverse life events, this is when he or she may contemplate the thought of suicide. Oftentimes, their reactions to intense emotional and/or physical pain can leave them mired in hopelessness. When all hope is lost, some people may feel that suicide is the only solution. Suicide is a permanent solution to what is nearly always a temporary problem.
There’s no single cause for suicide. Suicide most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition. Depression is the most common condition associated with suicide, and it is often undiagnosed or untreated. Conditions like depression, anxiety and substance problems, especially when unaddressed, increase risk for suicide. Yet it’s important to note that most people who actively manage their mental health conditions lead fulfilling lives.
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- National Suicide Prevention Line- The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Crisis Text Line- A free, 24/7 text line for people in crisis. Text HOME to 741741
- Lifeline Crisis Chat- National chat network that can provide online emotional support, crisis intervention, and suicide prevention services.
- Youth Suicide Warning Signs- Information on the warning signs of suicide and what you can do to help.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness- The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.
- The Campaign to Change Direction- The Campaign to Change Direction encourages all Americans to pay attention to their emotional well-being and aims to change the culture of mental health in America.
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention- The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) works to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide.
- Crisis Center Birmingham- The mission of the Crisis Center is to serve the unmet needs of people experiencing personal crisis or mental health issues and respond with services that promote coping, emotional health and well-being. CRISIS LINE (205) 323-7777
- The Jason Foundation- The Jason Foundation, Inc. (JFI) is dedicated to the prevention of the “Silent Epidemic” of youth suicide through educational and awareness programs that equip young people, educators/youth workers and parents with the tools and resources to help identify and assist at-risk youth.
- American Association of Suicidology- The American Association of Suicidology promotes understanding and prevention of suicide and supports those who have been affected by it.
- The Trevor Project- The Trevor Project provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth.
Something to look out for when concerned that a person may be suicidal is a change in behavior or the presence of entirely new behaviors. This is of sharpest concern if the new or changed behavior is related to a painful event, loss, or change. Most people who take their lives exhibit one or more warning signs, either through what they say or what they do:
Talk | If a person talks about:
- Being a burden to others
- Feeling trapped
- Experiencing unbearable pain
- Having no reason to live
- Killing themselves
Behavior | Specific things to look out for include:
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online for materials or means
- Acting recklessly
- Withdrawing from activities
- Isolating from family and friends
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
- Giving away prized possessions
Mood | People who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods:
- Loss of interest
Characteristics or conditions that increase the chance that a person may try to take their life:
- Mental health conditions
- Bipolar (manic-depressive) disorder
- Borderline or antisocial personality disorder
- Conduct disorder
- Psychotic disorders, or psychotic symptoms in the context of any disorder
- Anxiety disorders
- Substance abuse disorders
- Serious or chronic health condition and/or pain
- Stressful life events which may include a death, divorce, or job loss
- Prolonged stress factors which may include harassment, bullying, relationship problems, and unemployment
- Access to lethal means including firearms and drugs
- Exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of suicide
- Previous suicide attempts
- Family history of suicide attempts
Common Misconceptions About Suicide
FALSE: People who talk about suicide won't really do it.
Almost everyone who commits or attempts suicide has given some clue or warning. Do not ignore suicide threats. Statements like "you'll be sorry when I'm dead," "I can't see any way out," — no matter how casually or jokingly said, may indicate serious suicidal feelings.
FALSE: Anyone who tries to kill him/herself must be crazy.
Most suicidal people are not psychotic or insane. They may be upset, grief-stricken, depressed or despairing, but extreme distress and emotional pain are not necessarily signs of mental illness.
FALSE: If a person is determined to kill him/herself, nothing is going to stop them.
Even the most severely depressed person has mixed feelings about death, wavering until the very last moment between wanting to live and wanting to die. Most suicidal people do not want death; they want the pain to stop. The impulse to end it all, however overpowering, does not last forever.
FALSE: People who commit suicide are people who were unwilling to seek help.
Studies of suicide victims have shown that more than half had sought medical help in the six months prior to their deaths.
FALSE: Talking about suicide may give someone the idea.
You don't give a suicidal person morbid ideas by talking about suicide. The opposite is true—bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly is one of the most helpful things you can do.
Source: SAVE – Suicide Awareness Voices of Education
When You Are Concerned for Someone
Take any suicidal talk or behavior seriously. It's not just a warning sign that the person is thinking about suicide—it's a cry for help. Anyone who talks about suicide or shows other warning signs needs immediate help—the sooner the better. Get help! It is important to remember that raising the topic of suicide does not lead to suicide.
If you See the Warning Signs of Suicide
Begin a dialogue by asking questions. Suicidal thoughts are common with some mental illnesses and your willingness to talk about it in a non-judgmental, non-confrontational way can be the help a person needs to seeking professional help.
Questions okay to ask:
- "Do you ever feel so badly that you think about suicide?"
- "Do you have a plan to commit suicide or take your life?"
- "Have you thought about when you would do it (today, tomorrow, next week)?"
- "Have you thought about what method you would use?"
Asking these questions will help you to determine if your friend or family members is in immediate danger, and get help if needed. A suicidal person should see a doctor or mental health professional immediately. Calling 911 or going to a hospital emergency room are also good options to prevent a tragic suicide attempt or death. Calling the National Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) is also a resource for you or the person you care about for help. Remember, always take thoughts of or plans for suicide seriously.
Never keep a plan for suicide a secret. Don’t worry about risking a friendship if you truly feel a life is in danger. You have bigger things to worry about-someone’s life might be in danger! It is better to lose a relationship from violating a confidence than it is to go to a funeral. And most of the time they will come back and thank you for saving their life.
Don't try to minimize problems or shame a person into changing their mind. Your opinion of a person's situation is irrelevant. Trying to convince a person suffering with a mental illness that it's not that bad, or that they have everything to live for may only increase their feelings of guilt and hopelessness. Reassure them that help is available, that what they are experiencing is treatable, and that suicidal feelings are temporary. Life can get better!
If you feel the person isn't in immediate danger, acknowledge the pain is legitimate and offer to work together to get help. Make sure you follow through. This is one instance where you must be tenacious in your follow-up. Help find a doctor or a mental health professional, participate in making the first phone call, or go along to the first appointment. If you're in a position to help, don't assume that your persistence is unwanted or intrusive. Risking your feelings to help save a life is a risk worth taking.
If a friend or family member tells you that he or she is thinking about death or suicide, it's important to evaluate the immediate danger the person is in. Those at the highest risk for committing suicide in the near future have a specific suicide PLAN, the MEANS to carry out the plan, a TIME SET for doing it, and an INTENTION to do it.
The following questions can help you assess the immediate risk for suicide:
- Do you have a suicide plan? (PLAN)
- Do you have what you need to carry out your plan (pills, gun, etc.)? (MEANS)
- Do you know when you would do it? (TIME SET)
- Do you intend to commit suicide? (INTENTION)
** If a suicide attempt seems imminent, call a local crisis center, dial 911, or take the person to an emergency room. Remove guns, drugs, knives, and other potentially lethal objects from the vicinity but do not, under any circumstances, leave a suicidal person alone.**
Helping a Suicidal Person
Get professional help.
Do everything in your power to get a suicidal person the help he or she needs. Call a crisis line for advice and referrals. Encourage the person to see a mental health professional, help locate a treatment facility, or take them to a doctor's appointment.
Follow-up on treatment.
If the doctor prescribes medication, make sure your friend or loved one takes it as directed. Be aware of possible side effects and be sure to notify the physician if the person seems to be getting worse. It often takes time and persistence to find the medication or therapy that’s right for a particular person.
Those contemplating suicide often don't believe they can be helped, so you may have to be more proactive at offering assistance. Saying, “Call me if you need anything” is too vague. Don’t wait for the person to call you or even to return your calls. Drop by, call again, invite the person out.
Encourage positive lifestyle changes.
A healthy diet, plenty of sleep, and getting out in the sun or into nature for at least 30 minutes each day. Exercise is also extremely important as it releases endorphins, relieves stress, and promotes emotional well-being.
Make a safety plan.
Help the person develop a set of steps he or she promises to follow during a suicidal crisis. It should identify any triggers that may lead to a suicidal crisis, such as an anniversary of a loss, alcohol, or stress from relationships. Also include contact numbers for the person's doctor or therapist, as well as friends and family members who will help in an emergency.
Remove potential means of suicide.
Items such as pills, knives, razors, or firearms must be removed. If the person is likely to take an overdose, keep medications locked away or give out only as the person needs them.
Continue your support over the long haul.
Even after the immediate suicidal crisis has passed, stay in touch with the person, periodically checking in or dropping by. Your support is vital to ensure your friend or loved one remains on the recovery track.