September is national Suicide Prevention month. According the the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, and the rates of suicide related deaths continue to rise each year. Certain populations are at an increased risk for suicide, including men, who are 4 times more likely than women to die by suicide, and transgender adults, who are 9 times more likely to attempt suicide compared with the general public. The highest rates of suicide in the US are among American Indian/Alaskan Native populations. By raising awareness, sharing resources, and advocating for mental health care, we can all play a part in suicide prevention.
Know the risks and Warning Signs
As mentioned above, suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the US, and some groups and individuals are statistically at a higher risk for attempting and/or completing suicide. Data shows that 46% of people who die by suicide had a known mental health condition, and 90% may have experienced symptoms of a mental health condition. Other factors that lead to greater risk for suicide include: family history of suicide, substance use, access to firearms, history of trauma or abuse, chronic stress, or a recent tragedy or loss.
If you notice changes in a loved one's behavior, these may be warning signs of suicide. Some behaviors that are often warning signs of suicide include: increase in substance use, increased aggression, withdrawal from family and friends, dramatic mood swings, and impulsive or reckless behaviors. Other warning signs can include obtaining a weapon, collecting and saving pills, giving away possessions and tying up loose ends, and saying goodbye to family and friends. If you notice these signs in yourself or in others, it is important to seek immediate help from a mental health provider or contact crisis support, such as the national suicide & crisis lifeline by dialing 988.
Suicidal behavior should always be taken seriously and treated as an emergency. However, it is important to show your loved one support, concern, and patience while supporting them through a mental health related crisis. It is important to remain calm, be open and honest with the individual in crisis, and remove means of harm if possible (such as pills or weapons), while helping the individual to seek professional support. For more information on handling a mental health crisis, read NAMI’s resource guide here: https://www.nami.org/Support-Education/Publications-Reports/Guides/Navigating-a-Mental-Health-Crisis
Prevention: How You Can Help
We can all take part in suicide prevention. The national Suicide & Crisis Lifeline encourages taking the following steps to help prevent suicide. Step one is to Ask: asking a friend or loved one who may be showing warning signs of suicide can provide them relief. Often people fear that talking about or mentioning suicide may put the idea in someones head, however, data shows that talking with a loved one about suicide in a caring and supportive way reduces their feelings of suicide. The next step is to Be There: people experiencing suicidal thoughts often feel isolated and alone. Having someone there for support can help people to feel less depressed, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful. The next step is Keep Them Safe: when a person's access to lethal means is decreased, the rate of suicide declines significantly. Another step is to Help Them Stay Connected: having a network of resources and support has been shown to greatly reduce feelings of hopelessness. Finally, Follow Up: supportive, ongoing contact, even if brief, is an important part of suicide prevention especially for those who may have been recently hospitalized.
Statistics show that nearly 20% of high school students, and 11% of young adults experience suicidal thoughts. At the greatest risk for suicide among youth are black youth, members of indigenous communities, and those who identify as LGBTQ. It can be frightening to think that suicidal thoughts are so common among teens and young adults, however youth respond exceptionally well to prevention and there is a large gap between those who experience suicidal thoughts and those who attempt or complete suicide. Many of the risk factors for youth are similar to adults, but also include serious family problems, breakups or relationship losses, and multiple exposures to suicide in the community. Another risk factor for youth include talking, joking, or posting online about dying or suicide.
Some factors that protect youth from the risks of suicide include strong social and family connections, access to mental health care, support from social or religious communities, and lack of access to lethal means (such as weapons or pills). Again, when it comes to suicide prevention it is best to talk with youth in a supportive way, and help them to access resources. Talking with your child will not put the idea of suicide in their head, but will likely save them by creating an open and non-judgemental space for support.
Knowing what resources to access is a key component to suicide prevention. All of these resources are run by trained mental health professionals. On a national level the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline offers 24/7 support and can be accessed by calling or texting 988, or by visiting 988lifeline.org to chat online with a crisis worker. There is also the National Suicide Hotline which can be reached at 800-273-8255, and the National Youth crisis hotline which can be reached at 800-442-4673. Locally, Mobile Crisis provide 24/7 crisis support with the ability to respond to urgent situations with an average response time of two hours. The phone numbers are: Wake County (877-626-1772) and Johnston County (800-510-9132).