It’s a hard topic to talk about, in part because for most of us, the mere idea of losing a loved one to suicide is unbearable. But for thousands of people every year, both the survivors, and those in danger, it’s a reality of daily life. While it might cause discomfort, addressing underlying mental health and communication problems is an important step we can take, as a society, and as people, to help prevent suicide.
National suicide rates have soared to a 30-year high, with more than 40,000 people a year taking their own lives. Knowing what to look for and when to get help can be important preventative measures.
Often people who become suicidal might have one or more behavioral disorders (bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression, drug or alcohol dependence, schizophrenia), and major stress relating to finances or relationships. People struggling with suicidal thoughts might feel overwhelmed by life — focusing on feelings of rejection, shame, guilt or worthlessness. Trauma can also trigger suicidal behaviors. The death of a loved one, illness or the emotional roller-coaster of a breakup can be too much for those already struggling with their own well-being.
Behaviors to watch for include:
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▪ Giving away belongings, or getting “affairs in order.”
▪ Self-destructive behavior, including the abuse of drugs or alcohol.
▪ Talking about death, suicide, or wanting to hurt themselves.
▪ Talking about feelings of hopelessness or guilt.
▪ Change in sleeping or eating habits.
▪ Trouble functioning at work or school — trouble concentrating or thinking clearly.
▪ Losing interest in activities, or people, they used to enjoy.
While it’s important never to ignore a suicide threat or attempted suicide, in fact, there is research showing that a significant number of suicides are “impulsive” acts, completed in the midst of trauma. Reducing the availability of “easy” methods of suicide may help save lives. Firearms, for example, are the most lethal common method of suicide. Research by the Injury Control Research Center indicates that “a 10 percent reduction in firearm ownership would translate into a 2.5 percent reduction in the overall suicide rate, or about 800 fewer deaths per year.”
Especially with teens, it can be important to take as many preventative measures as possible:
▪ Keep all prescription medicines locked up.
▪ Don’t keep alcohol in the home, or keep it locked up.
▪ Don’t keep guns in the home. If you do keep guns in the home, lock them up and keep the bullets somewhere else.
▪ Encourage conversation. Talking to someone who cares, and who does not judge the person, can help reduce their risk of suicide.
Suicidal people might believe that nothing can help them, or they might see themselves as weak and not want to admit they need help. They might not know where to go for help.
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, the following hotlines are available from anywhere in the United States, 24 hours a day, seven days a week: 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-999-9999. Don’t try to manage the problem on your own. Seek help.
Reach Dr. Rachel C. Wood, health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties, at 360-867-2501, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @ThurstonHealth on Twitter.