Note: Anyone struggling with thoughts of suicide should call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and with the immense struggles so many are going through in September 2020, I urge you to reach out to your loved ones. Speak up and let them know you care.
Now more than ever, it is critical that we don’t shy away from talking openly and honestly about suicide with those who may be experiencing a mental health emergency.
It’s hardly surprising that the uncertainties, loss, isolation and fear of the COVID-19 pandemic, has taken a toll on people struggling with anxiety and depression. Now, add to it political and societal turmoil, as well as economic devastation, and you have a potent recipe for a mental health crisis.
A recent CDC report showed a sharp uptick in suicidal ideation, with 11 percent of adults reporting that they had seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days. This percentage rises among minorities, caregivers, and essential workers. Most significantly, it jumps to 25 percent when accounting for young adults between the ages of 18 and 24. That’s one in every four people in that age group.
Before COVID, suicide was already a major public health concern according to the National Institute of Mental Health. With more than 47,000 suicide deaths and 1.4 million suicide attempts reported in the United States in 2017, it was the 10th leading cause of death overall and the second leading cause among people ages 10 to 34.
HOPE AND HEALING
Although the numbers are grim, having counseled populations at high risk for suicide for more than 16 years, I suggest that loved ones, caretakers and mental health professionals don’t focus on suicidal ideation as a problem that needs to be resolved. Instead, let’s look at it as a symptom that should spur us on to seek deeper connection with those who are in pain. By listening to them with an open mind and compassion, we may discover something else – perhaps hope, hidden resilience or a path to healing.
Humans are highly skilled problem solvers and we will try every option available to us first before considering suicide, so let us work together to help those who are suffering discover options. It could take years, but we can help guide someone out of their darkness.
WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW
The National Alliance for Mental Health provides a helpful guide for what to look for and how to support someone in crisis:
Here are a few other warning signs of suicide:
- Increased alcohol and drug use
- Aggressive behavior
- Withdrawal from friends, family and community
- Dramatic mood swings
- Impulsive or reckless behavior
Suicidal behaviors are a psychiatric emergency. If you or a loved one starts to take any of these steps, seek immediate help from a health care provider or call 911:
- Collecting and saving pills or buying a weapon
- Giving away possessions
- Tying up loose ends, like organizing personal papers or paying off debts
- Saying goodbye to friends and family
If you are unsure, a licensed mental health professional can help assess.
The behaviors of a person experiencing a crisis can be unpredictable, changing dramatically without warning.
There are a few ways to approach a suicide-crisis:
- Talk openly and honestly. Don’t be afraid to ask questions like: “Do you have a plan for how you would kill yourself?”
- Remove means such as guns, knives or stockpiled pills
- Calmly ask simple and direct questions, like “Can I help you call your psychiatrist/therapist?”
- If there are multiple people around, have one person speak at a time
- Express support and concern
- Don’t argue, threaten or raise your voice
- Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong
- It is ok to be nervous. Just communicate you care
- Be patient
If you or someone you love is thinking about suicide, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support at (800) 273-8255. If you are concerned about someone because they are struggling, I am here to help. Please contact me for an evaluation.