How to Promote Suicide Awareness Month
September is National Suicide Prevention Month. It's a time to increase awareness on this often stigmatized topic. Mental health advocates, survivors, and prevention organizations use this month to spread hope and crucial information to those affected by suicide.
Now more than ever, everyone should be aware of the prevalence of suicide, know how to recognize the warning signs for suicide, and how to effectively help someone struggling with suicidal thoughts.
There isn't one single cause for suicide. Often it occurs when a variety of things add up. Suicidal thoughts, much like mental health conditions, can affect anyone regardless of age, gender or background. When left untreated, mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and substance use can increase the risk.
Other risk factors for suicide include:
- Severe physical health conditions, including chronic pain
- Substance use disorders
- History of trauma or abuse (including childhood trauma)
- Traumatic brain injury
- Access to lethal means, such as firearms
- Chronic stress
- Previous suicide attempt(s)
- Family history of suicide
- Job or financial loss
- Lack of healthcare, especially mental health and substance abuse treatment
Warning signs of suicide
Individuals experiencing suicidal thoughts often have changes in their typical behavior or act entirely out of character. It's crucial to pay attention to these behaviors, as well as specific phrases or thoughts. The following includes examples that a person may be hinting they're feeling suicidal:
- Seriously talking or ‘joking’ about suicide
- Expressing feelings of hopelessness
- Saying they don’t have a reason to live
- They feel like a burden to others
- Saying they feel "trapped"
- Talking about unbearable physical or emotional pain
- Giving away prized possessions
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting agitated, anxious
- Sleeping unusually little or too much
- Withdrawing or feeling isolated
- Talking about seeking revenge or showing rage
- Having extreme mood swings
- Exhibiting risk-taking behaviors
- Showing lack of interest in the future
How can you intervene if you believe someone is feeling suicidal?
Regardless of how uncomfortable the situation may feel, if you recognize someone expressing any of the listed thoughts, feelings, or behaviors, it may indicate they're suicidal; it's critical to address it. The National Institute for Mental Health suggests five different action steps to help address and prevent suicide:
Ask. Simply ask the person, "Are you thinking about killing yourself?" although it's not an easy question to ask, experts, say that asking an at-risk person if they're thinking about suicide doesn't increase their risk of attempting it, nor does it increase suicidal thoughts. In addition, if someone isn't experiencing suicidal thoughts, asking them doesn't put the idea into their head or increase their risk of becoming suicidal.
Keep them safe. If the person expresses that they are having suicidal thoughts, ask them if they have a plan. Attempt to remove or limit their ability to carry it out. It's essential to determine if they have any access to lethal items like firearms or dangerous places to their wellbeing.
Be there for them. Listen to them carefully and allow them to express their thoughts and feelings. Research has shown that acknowledging or talking about suicide doesn't increase but somewhat decreases suicidal thoughts.
Help them connect. Save the following crisis resources and phone numbers in your phone, so they're readily available if you need them. Give these numbers to the individual as well. Help them connect to another trusted support person, like a therapist, counselor.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273 TALK (8255)
- Crisis Text Line number: if you’re uncomfortable calling, text HOME to 741741 for free, 24/7 crisis counseling.
- If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call 911 immediately.
Stay connected. Stay in touch with someone after they've sought out care or after the crisis has passed. Studies have shown that the number of suicide deaths significantly decreases when someone follows up with the individual after a suicide intervention.
While these conversations can be difficult and painful, failing to intervene when someone you care for expresses suicidal thoughts can place them at a higher risk of attempting suicide. By reaching out, asking questions, and helping people connect to the appropriate resources, anyone can help prevent suicide, regardless of background or experience.
If you have lost a loved one to suicide, the impact can be intense and overwhelming. Know that you don't have to cope alone. Working with a caring professional or joining a support group can help you heal and move forward.
At Michigan Psychological Care, our mission is to help you find the care and treatment you need. We work to put your worries about opening up to rest by providing a comfortable location and atmosphere.
Our sessions are provided in a one-on-one setting with one of our experienced therapists. If you're interested in group counseling, we also provide that. We have three convenient facilities to provide you with the compassionate care you deserve. Contact us to schedule an appointment.
Keywords: National Suicide Prevention & Awareness Month, how to prevent suicide, mental health, depression