Reflecting on Suicide Prevention Month

 

Suicide. The word itself elicits a nearly visceral reaction. The topic is often one to be avoided and never appropriate for polite dinner conversation. Yet, September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and as such, we would be remiss not to have an open dialogue about a very real, very dire phenomena in the United States and around the world. According to The World Health Organization, nearly 800,000 individuals take their lives every year. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention estimates that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for individuals living in the United States, and is the 2nd leading cause of death for persons aged 10 to 34. Surprising to some, males are nearly 3 times more likely to complete suicide, and over 10% of people in the United states have contemplated suicide – and this is just a snap shot of the statistics.

The data itself sheds a daunting light on the prevalence and breadth of suicide, but the numbers can’t speak for the lives lost or the pain that wreaks havoc on the friends and families of those no longer with us. Ask anyone in your inner circle and chances are they either know of, or were directly impacted by someone who took their life. This persistent devastation has led to a movement from mental health organizations worldwide to provide prevention resources and information to the general public in an attempt to change the way suicide is understood and subsequent ally handled.

 

Know the language.

It’s important to be aware that there is key language to further prevent and provide education pertaining suicide. An important step to eradicating high rates of suicide is understanding the verbiage and behaviors of those around you, so that prevention may be possible.

  • Suicidality infers any level of suicidal thought, plan, or means an individual may express. It’s important to notate active and passive suicidal ideation.
    • Firstly, ideation relates to thoughts about harming oneself or completing suicide.
    • Passive ideation refers to thoughts of self-harm and suicide but with no plan to carry it out, and is an indicator that it’s time to talk to someone.
    • Active ideation pertains to thoughts of self-harm and suicide with a plan developed to carry it out, which requires immediate action to prevent a plan from coming to fruition.
  • A suicide plan refers to an individual who contemplates when and how an attempt may be made.
    • When determining level of risk, a suicidal plan should be assessed for the intent, the doability of the plan, the means present, and warning signs.
  • Finally, suicide attempt is the deliberate act in which a person intends to kill themselves, however the attempt does not result in death.

Knowing the language can help you better anticipate if a loved one may be contemplating suicide.  There are numerous online prevention resources with specific mental health providers and services, tailored to meet specialized needs.

Know the warning signs.

Suicide is rarely ever attempted or completed without change displayed by the person. Talk about wanting to harm oneself, about feeling hopeless, a burden, or extreme emotional pain are often indicative of suicidality. Researching ways to harm oneself or the means of obtaining materials to harm oneself are also apparent in suicidal behaviors. A primary precipitant to suicidality are drastic and sudden changes in conduct such as withdrawal or isolative behaviors, shifts in sleep patterns, rapid mood swings and irritability, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, and increases in alcohol or drug intake. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list, and if you suspect someone you know may be experiencing suicidal ideation reach out to any of the resources below or call 911.

Know the resources.

One of the most important factors in starting the conversation about suicide is understanding that suicidal thoughts, plans, and behaviors have been experienced by numerous people. The experience of common understanding, known as universality, has created a space where people affected by suicide can share their stories of overcoming difficulties. So many people who take their lives feel that they are alone – but the push towards suicide education and prevention has opened the door to understanding that no one has to go it alone. It takes strength to be candid about mental health struggles, and stories of hope and recovery display the importance of vulnerable, genuine dialogue about the impact of suicide. Shared understanding such as this can provide hope and collectivism in a world that may feel especially separated right now. 

More tangible resources include the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which provides confidential crisis intervention 24/7 – this number can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). In addition, there is a Crisis Text Line, where an individual can be connected to a crisis counselor by simply texting “hello” to 741741. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has local chapters across the United States that provides access to educative resources, programs, and support for those affected by suicide. There are numerous online prevention resources  with specific mental health providers and services, tailored to meet specialized needs.

 

One of the most important factors in preventing suicide is checking in on others. Speaking candidly with someone who may be struggling and listening carefully to their responses can help show support. Acknowledging feelings can be extremely validating for someone who is struggling. You can always get help, either for yourself or a loved one. Ending the stigma about suicide starts with having conversations about mental health and recognizing the warning signs that it may be time to reach out to a trained professional who can help manage feelings that can be scary to experience. Together we can all make proactive steps towards preventing suicide, and it begins with starting the conversation. 

-Malory Dahl, MA, CSAC