Suicide prevention needs to be a year-round effort

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September is traditionally the month when families affected by suicide, mental health advocates, prevention organizations, and community members unite to promote suicide prevention awareness. However, considering the rising incidence of suicide in our nation, every month needs to be considered Suicide Prevention Month.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people under age 34, after accidents. It is the fourth-leading cause of death for people ages 34-54, after accidents, cancer, and heart disease. The number of people committing suicide in the United States has increased 30 percent since 1999.

Many people believe African Americans do not commit suicide, but in fact people of all racial and cultural backgrounds attempt and commit suicide. The suicide rate among African Americans is significantly lower than whites, and the suicide rate among Latinos is similar to that of African Americans.

The suicide rate among Asian Americans is much lower. Native Americans have the lowest rate of completed suicides of all racial and cultural groups. 

Disturbingly, there has been a steep increase in the suicide rate of young children since the early 1990s. The suicide rate among children under age 18 has increased 50 percent since 1999, and the suicide rate among African American children has increased 71 percent.

Many times, suicides and attempted suicides are not reported as such. In 2018, Rapper Lil Wayne revealed that an accidental gunshot wound he suffered at age 12 was actually a suicide attempt. 

African American children ages 5-12 have double the suicide rate of white children the same age. For children ages 13-18, the suicide rate among white children is twice that of African American children. The reasons why the suicide rate in children is increasing and the reasons for the differences based on race are currently being studied.

Mental health professionals believe the reasons children commit suicide are different from adults’ reasons. Children tend to be more impulsive than adults, and they sometimes act without thinking about or understanding consequences.

Children’s understanding of death is also different, and they may not understand that death is final. Also, children may not understand that pain and hardship are temporary and that difficult times will pass. African American’s distrust of the medical community may make them less likely to seek services for physical or emotional problems.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention identifies suicidal warning signs in terms of Talk, Mood and Behavior:

Suicide risk factors—Talk

If a person talks about:

  • Killing themselves
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Having no reason to live
  • Being a burden to others
  • Feeling trapped
  • Unbearable pain

Suicide risk factors—Mood

People who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of interest in life
  • Irritation
  • Humiliation, shame
  • Agitation, anger
  • Relief, sudden improvement in mood

Suicide risk factors—Behavior

Behaviors that may signal risk, especially if related to a painful loss or change:

  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Researching ways to end their life (such as Internet searches for suicide methods)
  • Withdrawing from activities
  • Isolating from family and friends
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Aggression
  • Fatigue

What to do?

It is a myth that talking to an individual about suicide will make things worse or lead someone to make an attempt. Listening to them, hearing what they say, and believing what they say are the most important things a concerned other can do when someone they care about is struggling with sadness, a life crisis, or thoughts of wanting to hurt themselves.

Have an honest conversation

  • Talk to the individual in private.
  • Listen to their story.
  • Tell them that you care about them.
  • Ask directly if they are thinking about suicide.
  • Encourage them to seek help from their doctor or therapist.
  • Avoid debating the value of life, minimizing their problems, or giving advice.

Resources

It is important for the community to know that there are resources available for family members, parents, and friends of those who are experiencing suicide ideation or other mental health difficulties. These include:

  • NorthPoint Behavioral Health (612-543-2500) offers counseling services to children and adults.
  • Hennepin County offers free, 24/7 phone counseling and in-home crisis counseling for adults and children in crisis, as well as parents and families of children who are struggling. Separate phone lines exist for adults (612-596-1223) and children (612-348-2233).
  • Call Suicide Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to talk with a counselor 24/7.
  • Text TALK to 741741 to text with a trained crisis counselor, free, 24/7.
  • Escort the individual to an emergency room.
  • If risk of suicide is imminent, call 911.

Steven Carney is a clinical social worker at NorthPoint Health and Wellness at both the main clinic on Penn Avenue and the satellite clinic on West Broadway Avenue. He has been a social worker and therapist in Minneapolis for 25 years and has worked with children, adults and families.

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