It’s hard to talk about suicide, but we need to. In Thurston County about 1 in every 5 middle school and high school students have seriously thought about it in the past year. About 1 in 10 young people have attempted suicide. In fact, suicide occurs among people of all ages, and is the eighth leading cause of death in Thurston County. Over the past several years, there has also been a rise in the number of suicide deaths among adults.
The state of Washington has a comprehensive suicide prevention plan. This plan lays out warning signs, and whether those signs indicate immediate danger. The plan shares that:
“About 80 percent of people who attempt suicide show some warning signs first. Knowing and recognizing these signs can help family and friends support a loved one before suicidal thinking turns into action. Warning signs can be acute and urgent or simply red flags for concern.”
The American Association of Suicidology recommends emergency mental healthcare for someone showing these warning signs:
- Fixation on death or dying—talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide, especially if this is unusual or related to a personal crisis or loss.
- Seeking ways to kill themselves (for example, collecting pills or making plans to purchase a weapon during a crisis).
- Directly or indirectly threatening suicide: – Direct threats like “I am going to kill myself.” – Indirect threats like “I can’t do this anymore,” “No one would miss me if I were gone.”
Additional warning signs that mean we need more information about a person’s suicide risk include:
- Self-mutilation, such as cutting.
- For students, a sudden drop in academic performance.
- Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking.
- Withdrawing from friends, family or society.
- Dramatic mood changes.
- No reason for living; no sense of purpose in life.
- Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge.
- Feeling trapped—as if there’s no way out.
- Increasing alcohol or drug use.
- Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all the time.
For someone seeing warning signs for suicide in a loved one or friend, it can be hard to know what to do. The Washington State Office of the Superintendent has an extensive resource page (http://bit.ly/2HRUb2M) specifically to help teachers, coaches, and other mentors be prepared to act to prevent suicide in young people. It shares a wide variety of warning signs and resources.
There are good places for people of any age to get help, such as the Lifeline Chat: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/, or the Suicide Prevention lifeline (800)-273-8255. There is also a new app that helps people stay connected when they’re having thoughts of suicide (http://my3app.org/).
If the person you are concerned about is in the military or a veteran, you can call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, send a text message to 838255, or chat online to receive free, confidential support 24/7.
If you suspect someone may be considering suicide, there are important actions you can take:
- Restrict access to lethal means: Be certain that guns, ammunition, household drugs, or other potentially fatal items are hidden, and locked up securely.
- Show you care and be persistent: The person may feel threatened by your concern. They may become upset or deny that they are having problems. Trust your instinct and be consistent and firm, and make sure that they get the help they need. Showing that you care can help counter the person’s sense of hopelessness, or helplessness.
- Ask tough questions: Don’t be afraid to ask if the person has considered suicide or other self-destructive acts. Asking about suicide, does not cause someone to commit suicide. Ask specific questions in a manner that doesn’t judge or threaten the person you are attempting to help (e.g.; I’ve noticed you’re going through some rough times. Do you ever feel like a burden? Are you thinking about killing yourself?)
- Don’t leave someone at imminent risk of suicide alone. Remain with them (or if the person is still a child, see that they are in a secure environment, supervised by caring adults) until professional help can be obtained.
- Get help when needed: If you believe that the person is in imminent danger, you should call 911. Tell the dispatcher that you are concerned that the person with you "is a danger to themselves."
More resources are available at the University of Washington’s Forefront Suicide Prevention website http://www.intheforefront.org/ and at www.youth.gov in the drop down menu under “suicide prevention.” It can be difficult to reach out to a person of any age, who is struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, but having that courage, and taking the time may save their life.
Reach Dr. Rachel C. Wood, health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties, at 360-867-2501, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @ThurstonHealth on Twitter.