With September being Suicide Prevention Month, we think it’s necessary to highlight the impact of mental illness and what we can do to watch out for the people we love.
Millions of people are affected by suicide each year; with mental well-being so profoundly affected by the coronavirus pandemic, National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month is even perhaps more relevant this year than ever before. We can all bring attention to this month by sharing it on social media and other digital platforms.
Here are some facts, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- In 2019, there were an estimated 1.38 million attempts in the United States, and more than 47,500 people died.
- Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, with an average of 130 deaths per day.
- Between the ages of 10 and 34, self-destruction is the second-leading cause of death.
- 78% of deaths are male
- The overall rate in the U.S. has gone up 35% since 1999.
- Forty-eight percent of people who die by suicide have a diagnosed mental illness, such as depression or other emotional health issues.
What Is National Suicide Prevention Month?
The month of September is a time to remember everyone impacted and raise awareness about the suicidal crisis. By raising awareness, we can focus efforts on connecting the people who need it most with potentially life-saving treatment for mental illness.
Throughout the month, advocates for mental health, mental health organizations that focus on prevention, survivors, allies, and community members come together, talking about suicide for awareness, provide shareable resources, and providing mental health education.
We want to shed more light on the reality that is suicide and perhaps promote hope and healing at the same time. By not avoiding the subject, it could be that you’re able to connect with someone at a time when they’re feeling vulnerable. You could make a life-saving impact on their life.
Mental illness shouldn’t be taboo or stigmatized, and we should be talking about it. By talking about it, people can get access to the resources they need for prevention and help. Attempting suicide is a public health concern for all of us, but treatment options are available to lower death rates. However, we need public participation to make a difference in suicide prevention.
Risk Factors and Warning Signs
By learning about the warning signs you have the power to potentially save a life during difficult times and prevent a loss of life. People most frequently make attempts to commit suicide when stress and mental illness come together, causing despair and a sense of hopelessness.
The most common condition associated with suicide is depression. However, anxiety and substance abuse are also related to increased risk for self-harm. Physically severe health conditions, including chronic pain, can associate with higher risk, as can traumatic brain injuries.
Environmental risk factors for suicide deaths include:
- Access to tools for self-harm, such as drugs or firearms
- Prolonged stress
- Stressful life events, like the loss of a loved one, a financial crisis, or rejection
- Having previous attempts, a history of abuse or trauma
Many people who commit suicide exhibit one or more warning signs, including:
- Talking about killing oneself
- feeling hopeless
- Feeling trapped
- Indicating they feel like a burden to other people
- Increased use of drugs or alcohol
- Withdrawal from activities or family and friends
- Sleeping a lot or too little
- Telling people goodbye
- Giving away possessions
- Loss of interest
- Humiliation or shame
Even seeming to suddenly feel relief or experiencing an improvement in mental or physical symptoms can, in some cases, be one of the warning signs to look out for.
In addition to risk factors, there are also protective factors. Protective factors are actions that can make someone less likely to engage in suicidal behavior, including:
- Having effective mental and physical health care, as well as treatment for substance use disorders
- Quick, easy access to clinical care and interventions
- Restricted access to tools of harm, like firearms
- Connections to community and family support such as a social worker
- Problem-solving and conflict resolution skills to improve life skills
- Religious and cultural beliefs
What Can You Do?
If you’re focusing on being an ally during this Suicide Prevention Month, you may be wondering what you can do as it relates to the topic of suicide and awareness about suicide prevention.
- First, watch for warning signs for suicide, including any changes in mood or behavior. If someone, for example, stops showing up to an activity they previously enjoyed, or they seem overly angry and frustrated, these can be warning signs.
- You may be seeing your friends and family virtually more often because of COVID-19, and if that’s the case, think about how they’re behaving in these spaces as well. For example, maybe they’re not responding to the family group chat, or they’ve stopped FaceTiming you regularly.
- You can also proactively ask someone directly if they’re okay in a confidential conversation.
- Show that you care and check-in. Often, someone with suicidal thoughts feels very alone, and a simple “are you okay” can go a long way to let them know they aren’t alone, nor are they a burden to other people. You can also let your loved ones know if they need anything, you’re there.
- You shouldn’t be afraid to ask about suicide. There’s a tendency to think that if you ask about it directly, you’re planting an idea in someone’s head, but there’s no research to support that.
- When you have honest conversations with questions such as whether or not they’ve thought about suicide, it’s going to open up the lines of communication in a new and vital way.
If your loved one says they’ve thought about suicide, it doesn’t always mean it’s an emergency, but it may still be a challenging time requiring suicide prevention efforts. Immediate signs of crisis would be if someone says they are thinking of acting on their thoughts right away or within the next few days.
If you feel it’s a mental health crisis, you should try to stay with the suicidal person during that time. You might also want to contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline or the Veterans Crisis Line if the person served in the military.
A hotline can be a confidential resource to connect you with a local crisis center or crisis worker who can help you at that moment and has special training. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline outlines five actionable steps if someone may be imminently suicidal. These are:
- Ask: This again goes back to the concept of asking direct questions and how you can help.
- Be There: You might be physically with someone, or maybe you stay with them on the phone. Just listening is helpful.
- Keep Them Safe: This is when you would be learning more about the imminence of potential danger. If someone has access to the means to kill themselves, you might need to get emergency help.
- Help Them Connect: This can include helping them find resources in the community or offering them the support and clinical care they need. These resources might include a mental health professional or mental health advocate, connection with suicide prevention organizations, or crisis counselors.
- Follow Up: Following up is an essential and often overlooked step. You should check on how they’re doing, and see if there’s anything else they need help with.
We can all make a difference in our loved one’s life if they’re experiencing suicidal thoughts just by being present and listening if nothing else. These are things we can explore and focus on during Suicide Prevention Month, along with helping connect them to mental health resources if we spot warning signs.
If you are in the United States you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or text line completely free at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
If your loved one isn’t in imminent danger but does need help, we encourage you to contact the mental health clinical care team at The Mental Health Center of San Diego by calling (858) 258-9883.