September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, a time to recognize the powerful impact of suicide. Acts of suicide are the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, with 42,773 people taking their own lives each year - many of them children.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. We all have the power to help those who feel as if they have no other way out, and to help our struggling younger community members. We can do so by learning to identify the risk factors and signs of suicide and understand how to get a friend or loved one the help they need.
Understanding The Risk Factors
Did you know over 90% of those who die via suicide suffer from a diagnosable mental illness, such as clinical depression. Often, they also suffer from alcohol or substance abuse problems. Difficult or traumatic events can make these underlying problems worse and lead someone to consider suicide as a viable solution.
This means that openly discussing mental health needs; addressing any substance or alcohol abuse; and being alert during times of turmoil is particularly important when working to protect friends and family.
Gender, age and race can also all play a role in one’s suicide risk. For example, on average, women attempt suicide more often than men, but men die from suicide more often than women by a factor of around 4-to-1. Suicide is most common among whites and Native Americans. The rate of suicides is highest among adults aged 45-64.
Finally, understanding someone’s history of suicide attempts is critical. Many believe that if someone attempts suicide and survives, they won’t try again. But that’s not always true. Between 30% and 40% of completed suicides had attempted suicide before. On average, a person is 100 times more likely to attempt suicide again within the first year after an unsuccessful attempt; however the more time that passes after an attempt, the less likely someone is to try again.
Recognizing The Signs Of Distress
Risk factors can contribute to the chances of someone attempting suicide - but ultimately, anyone can feel trapped enough to look for this extreme “out.” More important than understanding the risk factors behind suicide, is recognizing the warning signals leading up to it.
For example, excessive sadness can be a sign that one may attempt suicide. If an individual experiences mood swings or unexpected rages, this may also be a warning sign of serious distress. A period of depression followed by sudden calm or even happiness can also be a sign that one is contemplating suicide. Similarly, changes in personality or appearance can indicate that someone is considering suicide.
Additionally, if someone is talking about or threatening to kill themselves, that’s a very serious, very open sign and cry for help - not, as is commonly believed, a cry for attention. Suicidal individuals may increase their use of alcohol or drugs, or they might become aggressive or impulsive. If they are tying up unfinished business or saying goodbye to loved ones, you should get them help right away.
Recognizing the signs of distress is ultimately just the beginning. Suicidal thoughts and attempts are the result of very serious illnesses - treatable and manageable illnesses, but illnesses. One should never attempt to counsel a loved one, or work through their own suicidal thoughts, without professional guidance and input. It’s through the work of trained experts that individuals can conquer their poor health, and bring themselves into a healthier state.
With this in mind, if you would like to know more about identifying signs of suicide in a loved one, you can contact Dickinson Center for more information and ways you can help. Additionally, if you think someone you know is in immediate danger, contact the appropriate crisis response service or call 911.