Suicide is one of those subjects many people tend to avoid because they find it uncomfortable. While that is understandable, it seems likely if would be much less uncomfortable than another kind of conversation if a situation reaches a crisis point.
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month a time to shed light on this stigmatized, and often taboo, topic.
The good news for anyone who might be wondering what they can do to help is that there are resources available.
It can be as simple as sharing the following phone numbers: If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255), or call 911 immediately,
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), suicide rates have increased by 35% since 1999. More than 48,000 lives were lost to suicide in 2018 alone.
The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) published the following warning signs of suicide:
• increased alcohol and drug use;
• aggressive behavior;
• withdrawal from friends, family, and community;
• dramatic mood swings;
• impulsive or reckless behavior;
• 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 situation.
According to NAMI, 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?”
• 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;
• If you’re nervous, try not to fidget or pace;
• Be patient.
Like any other health emergency, it’s important to address a mental health crisis like suicide quickly and effectively. Unlike other health emergencies, mental health crises don’t have instructions or resources on how to help or what to expect.
One thing we can do when someone is having a difficult time is to practice active listening techniques, such as reflecting their feelings and summarizing their thoughts. This can help your loved one feel heard and validated.
NAMI notes, “While suicide prevention is important to address year-round, Suicide Prevention Awareness Month provides a dedicated time to come together with collective passion and strength around a difficult topic. The truth is, we can all benefit from honest conversations about mental health conditions and suicide, because just one conversation can change a life.”
Although I’m happy to help to promote awareness about suicide, this subject is far too important for anyone to rely only on a few bullet points printed by the Curmudgeon in a newspaper column.
We all have the opportunity to seek education from the many available expert resources.
Uncomfortable though it may be, would you rather be a friend, or a mourner at an unnecessary funeral? The choice should be easy.
There’s a role that all of us can play by helping to remove the stigma that has been attached to mental illness and suicide for far too long. Above all, we can continue to share the message that suicide is not the answer. No matter how hopeless or grim things may appear, there is always hope. Always.