SUICIDE PREVENTION WEEK
Awareness, education can help prevention
September marks the beginning of the National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, designating Sept. 5-11 as National Suicide Prevention Week.
With organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the American Association of Suicidology, the aim and focus of this movement is to educate, raise awareness and offer resources on suicide and suicide prevention. As the 10th leading cause of death and the third leading cause of death for young people, suicide affects both families and communities.
For those not familiar with suicide, the concept can be difficult to understand and impossible to fathom. The same can be true for those affected by suicide, struggling to find reasoning for losing a loved one, whether it be a family member or friend. The conversation around the why’s and how’s can sometimes be limited during times of grief. However, the goal for bringing national attention to this issue is to recognize someone struggling and prevent any attempts that might be made. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, for every suicide, there are 25 attempts. Each year, nearly 43,000 people die by their own means with the average age per 100,000 people being 12.93. As alarming as these statistics may be, and there are many more to be known, the most staggering is that suicide can affect anyone – regardless of age, race, gender and socioeconomic status. However, it is true that many who die by suicide also suffer from a mental or emotional illness, the most common being depression and bipolar disorder.
Most important in raising awareness and educating on this issue is to provide the skills and resources for helping others and have healthy conversations about the risks, help available and causes of suicide. NAMI, AAS and other mental health and suicide-related organizations offer printable resources on how to offer or seek help, as well as information on understanding suicide. Additionally, they offer graphics for Web sites, social media and other platforms as a way to reach a wider audience and bring others into the conversation. A key component in raising national attention is the focus on prevention as suicide is often discussed after tragedy or an attempt. Because this is an issue that is entirely preventable, educating others can include knowing of warning signs and risk factors, in addition to simply having the statistics and data.
An attempt of killing oneself is always without a doubt a sign that there is serious and immediate trouble in that person’s life, and action should always be taken with compassion, understanding and care. While it is known that those who attempt or complete suicide can sometimes have a diagnosis of depression or bipolar disorder, it is just as imperative to know the risk factors that can compound those illnesses and increase the likelihood. Particularly, it is when those conditions, as well as anxiety, go untreated and unaddressed that they can lead to an attempt. Additionally, a substance abuse issue can also create a serious risk as well. The ASFP notes that it’s important to understand that those diagnosed with a mental illness can lead successful and healthy lives should they receive treatment and help, and that a diagnosis does not guarantee a person will struggle with suicidal thoughts or actions.
Warning signs, or changes in a person’s mood or behavior that can suggest possible suicidal ideation, are often a part of a preventative concept. This is key in the education and awareness raising, as noticing a warning sign can mean the difference of life or death. The ASFP outlines that warning signs can come in the form of changes in a person’s talk, behavior or mood. These can be of particular importance if the person has recently experienced a painful event, loss or change. Should an individual begin to make statements suggesting that they feel like they are a burden on others, feeling as if there is no reason to life or that they are trapped – these can be indicators that something is wrong and help may be needed. The main influencer to suicide is hopelessness.
Behavior warning signs can include a person’s use or increase use of drugs or alcohol. The CDC reports that in 2010, 33.4 percent of those who died by suicide had tested positive for alcohol. Additionally, someone acting recklessly, looking for ways and means in which to kill themselves, withdrawing from others and preferred activities, giving away prized possessions or saying goodbye to loved ones are also behavioral warning signs. Some of these changes are also symptoms of depression, and are also important to be aware of in order to offer that person support. The mood changes associated with risk of suicide also include symptoms of depression, as well as anxiety, anger or aggression, and loss of interest.
The risk factors that increase the likelihood of suicidal ideation, as detailed by the ASFP, are as follows:
health conditions Depression Bipolar (manic-depressive) disorder
Schizophrenia 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
Family history of suicide attempts Previous suicide attempts Having an understanding of suicide, the factors which influence attempts, thoughts or ideation, as well as the warning signs to be aware of is only part of prevention awareness. Knowing what comes next, what help is available and what someone can do if they suspect a person is suicidal is equally, if not most, necessary.
If you think someone is experiencing suicidal thoughts, do not ignore them. Use compassion, empathy and concern to talk with them, but more importantly – listen.Try to remain calm and supportive, while asking specific and direct questions. If there is a proposed plan in place to carry out suicide, do not leave them alone, and seek professional help, even if they resist. Most importantly, communicate that there is hope and help available, there are people who care and that they are not alone. Try not to counsel them, unless you are trained to do so, but instead be supportive and understanding while guiding them toward professional help.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
For more information, resources and packets to participate in National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, or to learn more, visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Web site at www.afsp. org or the National Alliance on Mental Illness at www.nami.org.