Understanding suicide to help prevent it

Understanding suicide is something families, friends, and the medical community have grappled with for years. Despite a better understanding of suicide and more ways to help those with mental health issues, the number of deaths by suicide has continued to rise over the past decade, making it a major public health concern.

The issue is so pervasive in American society today that National Suicide Prevention Week has been designated from Sunday, Sept. 10 through Saturday, Sept. 16 surrounding World Suicide Prevention Day, September 10, to bring more attention to it. The entire month of September has also been earmarked National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) web site, it is “… a time to share resources and stories in an effort to shed light on this highly taboo and stigmatized topic.”

Suicide in America today

As reported on the National Institute of Mental Health’s (NIMH) website, a 2015 report from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated the following:

  • “Suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of more than 44,000 people.
  • Suicide was the third leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 14, and the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 15 and 34.
  • There were more than twice as many suicides (44,193) in the United States as there were homicides (17,793).”

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) states, “men are more likely to die by suicide than women, but women are more likely to attempt suicide. Men are more likely to use deadlier methods, such as firearms or suffocation. Women are more likely than men to attempt suicide by poisoning.”

Help for those in need

As explained on the CDC website, “While its causes are complex and determined by multiple factors, the goal of suicide prevention is simple: Reduce factors that increase risk (i.e. risk factors) and increase factors that promote resilience (i.e. protective factors).”

Programs like the Zero Suicide initiative are empowering behavioral health and health care systems to be proactive in looking for symptoms of depression or mental health issues in all patients so that early diagnosis can be realized and treatment started.

Inpatient and outpatient behavioral therapies can be combined with medication for effective treatment of depression and certain mental health conditions.

Many communities today offer local support hotlines that someone having suicidal thoughts can call to talk to a counselor. Online resources from the organizations mentioned above are also available for those individuals, as well as for their family and friends.

What you can do

The NIMH states, “Often, family and friends are the first to recognize the warning signs of suicide and can be the first step toward helping an at-risk individual find treatment with someone who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental health conditions.”

Start by learning the warning signs and symptoms and the risk factors for suicide (insert links here to online resource).

If someone tells you they are thinking about suicide, according to behavioral health company Beacon Health Options, Inc., you should take their distress seriously, listen non-judgmentally, and help them get to a professional for evaluation and treatment.

The NIMH web site recommends the following steps for family and friends dealing with someone who might be suicidal:

5 Action Steps for Helping Someone in Emotional Pain

  1. Ask: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”
  2. Keep them safe: Reducing a suicidal person’s access to highly lethal items or places is an important part of suicide prevention.
  3. Be there: Listen carefully and learn what the individual is thinking and feeling.
  4. Help them connect: Save the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s number in your phone so it’s there when you need it: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
  5. Stay Connected: Staying in touch after a crisis or after being discharged from care can make a difference

Also, understanding the local impact of suicide is important for Lehigh Valley residents. Read our interview with Gail Stern, MSN, Administrator of the Department of Behavioral Health for Lehigh Valley Health Network here.

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