September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – learn how you can help
Suicide is a public health problem that can be prevented. Learning to identify risk factors, warning signs, and ways to respond to those experiencing suicidal thoughts are some of the things community members can do to be involved in prevention.
Suicide is complex with multiple causative factors. One of the strongest predictors of suicide is a prior suicide attempt. Untreated depression is another condition often associated with suicidal behavior and thoughts.
The statistics are startling: In Minnesota, there are at least two suicides each day, and that represents an increase of 40 percent since 1999. Nationally, there are over 45,000 suicides each year. For each completed suicide, there are on the average 25 attempts.
This trend is not limited to the United States; the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that, worldwide, there are over 800,000 suicides each year. Globally, about 30 percent of suicides are by poisoning – ingesting pesticides.
In the United States, the most frequent method of suicide in men is by use of a gun, while women are more likely to die by drug overdose or poison. Although women attempt suicide more often, men are more likely to successfully commit suicide.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), suicide is the second-leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of 10-34. Suicide rates in Black children between the ages of five to 12 are double the rates for same-aged White children and has risen 71 percent between 2001-2015. Black boys have the highest suicide rate in this age group, and the most common method is by hanging.
Suicide rates are higher in the LGBTQ population. LQBTQ youth are five times more likely to attempt suicide when compared with heterosexual youth. Their attempts are four to six times more likely to result in injury requiring medical treatment.
Although some see bullying as “part of being a kid,” research shows that kids that are bullied are twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts and attempts as kids who are not bullied. Bullying is experienced by approximately 30 percent of children and can take many forms, including threats, violence, emotional abuse, cyberbullying, sexting, circulating texts and nude photos. Youth with disabilities, learning differences, or cultural differences are often most vulnerable to being bullied.
It is important to increase the awareness in parents and teachers about the risk factors associated with suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Developmentally, children may not understand the concept of finality with death or that crises and conflict will pass. They may be unable to perceive that their future can be brighter or verbalize that they need help.
Suicide has become a public health issue, and it is imperative that strategies are developed to increase awareness and promote prevention. The CDC offers the following definitions related to suicide:
- Suicide: Death caused by self-directed injurious behavior with an intent to die as a result of the behavior
- Suicide attempt: A non-fatal, self-directed, potentially injurious behavior with an intent to die as a result of the behavior; might not result in injury
- Suicide ideation: Thinking about, considering, or planning suicide
Risk factors are characteristics that make it more likely that someone will consider, attempt or die by suicide. They cannot cause or predict a suicide attempt, but it is important to be aware of them. Some of the risk factors include:
- Previous suicide attempts or family history of suicide
- Mental health disorders including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia
- Substance abuse
- Major loss
- Trauma, abuse and bullying
- Access to lethal means
- Stigma associated with asking for help
- Feeling alone
- Agitation or impulsivity
- Chronic or acute illness
Warning signs include talking about being better off dead, wanting to die or kill themselves, requiring an immediate response. Feeling that they are a burden to others, writing a suicide or goodbye letter, or becoming preoccupied with death are other warning signs for suicide. Do not dismiss these warning signs as manipulation or ways to get attention.
When you have concerns that someone is suicidal, you need to be direct and ask them. Approach them letting them know that you are concerned and willing to listen. Be respectful, nonjudgmental, and instill a sense of hope. Encourage them to seek help and offer to call someone or assist him or her in finding resources.
If you believe someone is at risk for suicide imminently, do not leave them alone. Call 911 and ask for assistance in transporting the individual to the emergency room. If possible, immediately eliminate access to means such as guns, knives or pills.
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255), provides free confidential support 24/7 for those in distress or crisis and their loved ones.
For a more complete list of risk factors and warning signs, go to https://afsp.org/about-suicide/risk-factors-and-warning-signs.
For further information, contact Dr. Deirdre Golden, director of Behavioral Health at NorthPoint Health and Wellness, 612-543-2705, or contact your primary care provider.