September is recognized annually as National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.
- Suicidal ideation refers to thinking about, considering, or planning suicide.
- A suicide attempt is a non-fatal, self-directed, potentially injurious behavior with intent to die as a result of the behavior. A suicide attempt might not result in injury.
- Suicide is defined as death caused by self-directed injurious behavior with intent to die as a result of the behavior.
Because suicide is a topic I rarely see openly discussed, due to its taboo nature, I want to emphasize the enormous importance of breaking this particularly stigmatized subject.
The reason for this? Look at some statistics according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness:
- 78% of all people who die by suicide are male.
- Although more women than men attempt suicide, men are nearly 4x more likely to die by suicide.
- Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10–34 and the 10th leading cause of death overall in the U.S.
- The overall suicide rate in the U.S. has increased by 35% since 1999.
- 46% of people who die by suicide had a diagnosed mental health condition.
- While nearly half of individuals who die by suicide have a diagnosed mental health condition, research shows that 90% experienced symptoms.
Prevention is knowing when and how to get a person in crisis the help they need.
In both my experience and from the literature I’ve been reading over the years, here are some of the signs to watch out for, and when I believe someone might be able to turn someone’s thoughts away from potential suicidal ideation and toward reaching out for professional help if they need it:
- Severe sadness or moodiness. Long-lasting sadness, mood swings, and unexpected rage.
- Hopelessness. Feeling a deep sense of hopelessness about the future, with little expectation that circumstances can improve.
- Sleep problems.
- Sudden calmness. Suddenly becoming calm after a period of depression or moodiness.
- Withdrawal. Choosing to be alone and avoiding friends or social activities. This includes the loss of interest or pleasure in activities the person previously enjoyed.
- Changes in personality or appearance. Exhibiting a change in attitude or behavior, such as speaking or moving with unusual speed or slowness. In addition, the person might suddenly become less concerned about their personal appearance.
- Dangerous or self-harmful behavior. Potentially dangerous behavior, such as reckless driving, engaging in unsafe sex, and increased use of drugs or alcohol.
- Recent trauma or life crisis. A major life crisis. Crises include the death of a loved one or pet, the end of a relationship, diagnosis of a major illness, loss of a job, or serious financial problems.
Keep in mind that getting help is THAT PERSON’S responsibility. Friends? Family? Coworkers? When you see these signs, it is not your job to fix the person you believe to be nearing crisis.
They may, in fact, not be in need.
But it might still be time or a good idea to at least suggest or guide the person you know toward getting professional help. The person may get angry if you try to push them. Back away if necessary, and remind that person AND yourself that it is their choice.
If you do genuinely believe someone is nearing a crisis and professional help might be useful but reaching out to someone directly may not be possible or the person may be resistant, something you can suggest is the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or texting the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741). Both are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and available to anyone. All calls are confidential.
- Making preparations. Often, a person considering suicide will begin to put their personal business in order. This might include visiting friends and family members, giving away personal possessions, making a will, and cleaning up their room or home. Some people will write a note before taking their own life. Some will buy a firearm or other means like hoarding pills.
- Threatening or talking about suicide. From 50% to 75% of those considering suicide will give someone — a friend or relative — a warning sign. It may not be an outright threat. They may talk an unusual amount about death or say things like “It would be better if I wasn’t here.”
These are the signs that, if you see or hear them, don’t wait. Don’t merely suggest help or try to talk the person out of their crisis. Offer to take them directly to a professional or call on help for them. Just don’t do it FOR them without their express permission. Unless they’re a child and you are their adult, don’t take agency away from someone.
Not everyone who is considering suicide will say so, and not everyone who threatens suicide will follow through with it. But every threat of suicide should be taken seriously.
I was in 7th grade the first time I felt real suicidal ideation. I felt as though no one in my family cared. That no one would care if I was just… gone. I didn’t know how I would do it. I just knew that if the opportunity came and/or I found the “courage” to go through with it, I would take it.
It was at lunch one day when I brought up my depression in front of other people. I don’t remember what it was I said, but it caught someone’s attention. Of all my friends sitting with me that day, reassuring me that I would be okay, one of them recognized the seriousness behind my words.
I was humiliated when the security guard he told came over and took me away from my friends and, in front of everyone in the lunchroom, escorted me out and to the guidance counselor’s office.
But by hearing an offhand comment and not knowing if I was serious about it or not, my friend saved my life by telling someone and getting help for me right away.
He saved me, because even through my anger at what I considered his betrayal, I was afraid of the consequences if people knew the truth.
It was easy to lie to my parents when they were called in. They thought I was just looking for attention, anyway, and were angry that I took it “that far.”
That made it easy to lie to the guidance counselor.
And it became easy to lie to everyone else.
But people still reached out. They still worried. They cared. And I knew, then, that I didn’t want to kill myself, anymore. I wasn’t alone.
Sharing my experiences with suicide ideation and suicide attempts has been something I am always desperately afraid to do.
I worry that revealing my past suicidal thoughts and attempts will jeopardize relationships, friendships, and my future as a whole. Are people going to look at me and think, “Really? That’s the person we’ve got in our lives or possibly working alongside us? She’s clearly got issues. She is unstable. She is not trustworthy.”
Suicidal ideation does not make a person weak or untrustworthy or “crazy.” It means they are in pain.
Do not judge a person for the pain they are in.
I spent so many years keeping my past hidden. Telling lies, because I didn’t want to risk the consequences of people knowing the truth. But keeping the truth hidden eats me up. Hiding that level of pain? It makes me feel as though I have no other options that will make the pain go away.
Talking is a way to release the pain we hide inside ourselves.
Talking about suicide is, thus, one of the most powerful ways we can prevent it.
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