September is National Suicide Prevention Month. This is a month for talking about and raising awareness of this difficult subject. According to the CDC, in 2016 suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of nearly 45,000 people. That is twice the number that died by homicide.
Suicide was the second leading cause of death among those between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth among 35- and 54-year-olds. In 2015, over 500,000 people visited a hospital for injuries due to self-harm, suggesting that for every reported suicide death, 11.4 people visit a hospital for self-harm related injuries. Sadly, 8.6 percent of youth in grades 9-12 reported that they had made at least one suicide attempt in the past 12 months.
Know the Warning Signs and Risk of Suicide
There’s no one leading cause for suicide. Suicide most often occurs when individuals experiencing stressors or health conditions feel hopelessness and despair. While conditions like anxiety and substance problems increase risk for suicide, depression is the most common factor especially when it is undiagnosed or untreated.
A warning sign that a person may be suicidal is a change in behavior especially if the change is related to a painful event, loss, or change. Most people who take their lives exhibit one or more warning signs, including talking about self-harm or feeling hopeless, isolating from family and friends, increased use of alcohol or drugs, and withdrawing from activities. Environmental factors such as exposure to bullying, stressful life changes, or exposure to another person’s suicide increase the chance that a person may attempt to take their own life.
It can be frightening and intimidating when a loved one shows signs of suicidal thoughts. However, not taking thoughts of suicide seriously can have a devastating outcome. Remember, if you think your friend or family member will hurt themselves, call 911 immediately.
According to NAMI, there are a few steps that can help prevent suicide:
- Remove access to guns, knives or stockpiled pills
- Ask simple and direct questions, such as “Can I help you call your psychiatrist?” and ask what you can do to help
- Don’t be afraid to ask “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” or “Do you have a plan for how you would kill yourself?”
- Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong
If your friend or family member has had suicidal thoughts in the past, it's a good idea to have a crisis plan just in case. This means that you'll need to work together to develop the best course of action if a crisis situation should occur.
The aftermath of a loved one's suicide can be physically and emotionally exhausting. As you work through your grief, be careful to protect your own well-being by reaching out to loved ones, friends and spiritual leaders for comfort, understanding and healing. Remember, there is no single "right" way to grieve so grieve in your own way and don't rush yourself. Losing someone to suicide is devastating, and healing must occur at its own pace. Don't be hurried by the expectations of others who believe that it's been "long enough."
Some days will be better than others, even years after the suicide — and that's OK. Healing doesn't often happen in a straight line. Consider a support group for families affected by suicide. Sharing your story with others who are experiencing the same type of grief might help you find a sense of purpose or strength. However, if you find going to these groups keeps you ruminating on your loved one's death, seek out other methods of support.
If you are in crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.