One of the worst tragedies that anyone can experience is the loss of a loved one by suicide. While it’s a topic that can be uncomfortable to discuss or might be associated with stigma, suicidality can affect people of any age, gender, religion or social class. Signs that someone is considering suicide are not always obvious, and if someone you know expresses the urge to end his or her life, these statements should never be ignored or dismissed.
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. During this time, individuals and organizations are encouraged to share stories and experiences of those who have been touched by suicide and to help raise awareness. Reaching out is intended to help people know where to find the resources they need if they are having suicidal thoughts, and also to provide support and resources for those who have lost loved ones by suicide.
Suicide Facts and Statistics
When a person is consumed with hopelessness, they may think suicide is the only way to obtain relief from their emotional pain. According to Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), suicide is the tenth leading cause of death for people of all ages. As many as one hundred Americans die by suicide each day.
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People who struggle with depression or other mental illnesses are at high risk of attempting or completing suicide. About half of Americans who struggle with major depression obtain treatment, which means that just as many may are not getting the help they need.
Risk Factors for Suicide
While mental health challenges sometimes are a factor in an individual’s suicidal tendencies, they are not the only reason people may become consumed with the urge to end their lives. Other risk factors include:
- Substance abuse
- Prolonged stress
- History of trauma or abuse
- Access to firearms and medications
- A recent tragedy or loss
- Family history of suicide
- Chronic physical pain or illness
How can you tell that a loved one may be considering suicide? Here are some of the warning signs to look for:
- Expressions of extreme hopelessness, such as making comments about wishing they were dead or talking about killing themselves
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Increased isolation
- Mood swings
- Reckless behavior
- Preoccupation with death
- Writing letters
- Giving away personal items
Ways to Help Prevent Suicide
If you suspect a loved one is considering suicide, there are things you can do that may make a difference. If you think the person is getting ready to act on suicidal urges, call 911 right away. Other things you can do include:
- Put away items that may be used, such as knives, guns or medications
- Offer to call a mental health professional
- Directly ask the person what he or she is planning to do and how you can help
- Avoid raising your voice, arguing with them or sounding harsh or judgmental
Trained counselors are available around the clock at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and they are willing to speak with either you or your loved one. The number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Don’t hesitate to call if you have concerns about a loved one or don’t know what to do to help.
Suicide Prevention Awareness
For many people, suicide is a taboo conversation. During the month of September, mental health advocates, community members, survivors and prevention organizations all strive to open the conversation and raise awareness of ways to prevent suicide. The aim is also to connect those in need with beneficial treatment services.
It’s great to keep the conversation going year-round about suicide prevention, but Suicide Prevention Month is a time when there is added focus on this important topic. Help to raise awareness by sharing graphics and images online and through social media conversations. Hashtags for these conversations include #StigmaFree and #SuicidePrevention. Education and awareness can save lives.