Each September, we recognize Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in an effort to protect our communities from the tragedy of suicide. Suicide is a preventable public health problem, and it’s the 10th leading cause of death in the United States for people all ages, and the second leading cause of death for those ages 15 to 24. Each year, more than 42,000 Americans die from suicide. This month, learn how you can recognize someone at risk of attempting suicide and how to offer help.
Suicide can affect people of all ages, genders and backgrounds. It most often occurs when stressors exceed the coping capacity of someone suffering from a mental health condition. It is important to recognize the risk factors for suicide, warning signs of someone who might be suicidal, and how to seek help for someone in need.
There are many risk factors that could influence someone’s decision to attempt suicide, the most common being mental illness, particularly clinical depression. Mental illness accounts for nearly 90 percent of all suicides, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Substance abuse and intoxication also can lead to suicide. More than one in three suicide victims are found to be under the influence. A family history of suicide, trauma or abuse also can put someone at risk. Most suicide victims have previously attempted suicide. Environmental factors including recent loss, isolation and prolonged stress can contribute.
There are visible warning signs for someone who might be at risk of attempting suicide. Someone who is seriously considering suicide might exhibit aggressive actions, dramatic mood swings, or impulsive or reckless behavior. Often, they will withdraw socially from friends and family. They might begin talking, writing or thinking about death, or threaten to kill themselves.
Those in imminent danger of attempting suicide might begin putting their affairs in order, saying goodbye to loved ones, or attempting to gather harmful materials such as firearms or prescription medications. If someone has displayed warning signs of suicide and suddenly becomes calm, it could also be a sign that he or she is in imminent danger of self-harm.
It can be difficult to prepare for the possibility that someone you know could be at risk for suicide. If you think that someone you know is in danger, don’t hesitate. Encourage those at risk to seek help from a mental health professional, or call 911 if the danger is immediate.
If you are the primary caregiver of a potentially suicidal person, develop a crisis plan in case of emergency. If you know someone is at risk but don’t know what to do, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Long-term, suicide risk can be reduced through psychotherapy, medication, and treatment for alcohol and drug abuse.
We place extra emphasis on this serious topic during Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, but it’s important to advocate for suicide prevention awareness year-round. Together, we can reverse the statistics and save more valuable lives from suicide.
Heather Goodman is with Assessment and Referral Services, Our Lady of Peace.