September is Suicide Awareness Month, and as a mental health agency, we understand the importance of providing access to resources for suicide prevention. These resources should not be limited to those experiencing suicidal thoughts. They should also be available to loved ones so they can learn to identify the warning signs of suicidal ideation. This may come as a surprise, but suicide is the 12th leading cause of death in America – in 2020, almost 46,000 Americans ended their own lives. And not only have the victims of suicide been affected, but family, friends, and communities are left heartbroken.
As disheartening of a topic suicide is, it is vital that suicide education is prevalent across communities of America. Suicide education is not only general facts and knowledge, but the understanding of prevention, intervention, postvention, and combating the perpetuation of suicide’s stigma. Before we delve into these topics, please take a moment to watch this short video of Gregg’s story, highlighting the complexity of suicide.
After listening to Gregg’s story, I’m sure you’ve grasped that many people perceive the decision to end their life as the only possible solution. And this is not for selfish reasons, but because decision making and rationality is completely hindered when your mental health is neglected and you are suffering deeply.
When discussing suicide in this article, we also want you to remember that because it is such an intricate topic and this is a shorter blog, we are only discussing the basics of prevention, intervention, postvention and stigma. This will provide you with a simplified overview of how you, the reader, can be more educated and look out for warning signs. If you are interested in more specific articles about suicide, it would be best to reference published articles in scholarly journals.
Prevention methods for suicide can be utilized in many different environments. For example, prevention methods in a school setting might be quite different from a home setting. But in any environment, it is important to identify those who are at risk. Below is a list of some factors to keep in mind that may contribute to suicidal thoughts.
- Individual Risk Factors
- Previous suicide attempt
- History of depression
- Financial/job problems
- Substance misuse
- Current or past adverse childhood experiences
- Sense of hopelessness
- Relational Risk Factors
- Loss of a relationship
- High conflict or violence in a relationship
- Family history of suicide
- Social isolation
- Communal Risk Factors
- Community violence
- Lack of access to healthcare
- Spike of suicides in the community
There can also be behavioral warning signs to look out for. Once seen, these changes can indicate that an individual might be at risk for suicide and intervention should take place as soon as possible. Some of these behavioral warning signs are listed below.
- Becoming isolated
- Obvious mood swings
- Expressing feelings of hopelessness
- Increased irritability or rage
- Discussing feeling trapped or in immense pain
- Looking for lethal means or specific access to lethal means
- Irregular sleep patterns
- Discussing death or wanting to die in person or on social media
If you become worried that someone you know may be having suicidal thoughts, it’s important to take action as best as you can. But what can you do? Well, start by simply asking the individual if they are experiencing suicidal thoughts at all. This may seem like a difficult task, but it can be extremely helpful. When asking, it’s important to be direct, non-judgemental and open, so they are comfortable sharing. If you have identified an individual as being suicidal, try and reduce access to any lethal means as much as possible. Asking an individual if they have a plan of action or have already tried to harm themselves could also give you insight on what to be aware of, such as medications or weapons.
If you are not in a position to reduce access to lethal means, or you cannot immediately devote the necessary resources to this person, get them connected to others who can assist. Over-committing out of worry is not a healthy option. Instead, make contact with family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, or any community they may be a part of. This is a great way to build an initial support system as individuals with suicidal thoughts tend to isolate themselves.
Another great way to help is to assist the individual in finding professional and emergency resources such as crisis lines, mental health agencies, and websites. Trained professionals will be able to help the situation in the best way possible, whether it be immediate emergency help or consistent help over a period of time. Below are some specific resources individuals can utilize.
- Contact the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988 or using the online chat at 988lifeline.org. This is available 24/7. I heads up though, the police do respond to these calls.
- Contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741-741 to message with a trained crisis counselor for free. This is available 24/7.
- Visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Website (https://afsp.org/suicide-prevention-resources) they have a multitude of emergency resources, crisis services, mental health care resources, and additional resources by specific condition.
If the unthinkable happens, postvention refers to the aftermath of a suicide and how we respond in order to facilitate the healing process for those experiencing grief and pain. The loss of someone to suicide creates ripples in a community and can severely change the lives of individuals affected. According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, a study estimated an average of 115 people are exposed to any one suicide, and 1 in 5 of those individuals reported that the experience had a devastating impact on their lives.
Postvention is mostly a community issue, but it is still very important to note. The best thing is for communities to already have a plan in place before a suicide even occurs, and this would include having a specific team and program that is personalized to each community. This program should include voluntary community activities that encourage clinical support. This could be an informal public meeting with clinical professionals present to encourage healthy grief, promote self-care, and normalize the idea of seeking help.
Stigma of Suicide
Finally, it is really important going forward that we understand the negative stigma of suicide and do not perpetuate it. A great example of the stigma is the wording that many people use when discussing suicide. Phrases such as “committed suicide” or “successful attempt” only add a harmful connotation. It’s also dangerous to glorify suicide. By this we mean deeming it honorable or romantic in any way. This can lead individuals to consider it more favorably as an option.
Another harmful stigma is believing that asking about suicide will incite suicidal thoughts in an individual’s mind. In actuality, it is very important to ask, because that’s how you begin the intervention process. If you never ask, that person may never get help. Another attitude that is really harmful is that people who attempt suicide or were victims of suicide are selfish and taking the easy way out. This statement is very hurtful because it’s not that individuals who die by suicide don’t want to live, but they want to end suffering and pain. They are not thinking of themselves but rather are completely consumed by deep suffering arising from serious mental health issues.
To conclude, mental health affects every single American and person around the globe. It is high time that we change the narrative of suicide and mental illness. Instead of putting down those in need, we need to be speaking out, and opening doors for individuals that need help. This will pave the way for a better future of understanding, advocacy, and acceptance until hopefully everyone feels comfortable to reach out and has access to getting the proper care they need to heal.
This blog was written by Lilly Hart, a recent graduate of the University of South Carolina. She currently has her Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology, with a minor in counseling. She has a deep passion for mental health awareness and plans to further her career in graduate school. She is the Administrative Assistant and Community Outreach Coordinator at Carolina Assessment Services, LLC, and can’t wait to produce new and insightful content for our readers.
If there are any other topics you’d be interesting in learning about, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are always appreciative of new ideas to delve into on the blog!