September is suicide prevention month. We, in West Central Missouri have had a very difficult several years because there has been a cluster of suicides in our region. Several adults and adolescents in our region have committed suicide over the past three years.
Suicide is such a difficult topic to talk about yet in order for us to prevent suicide, we must be willing to talk. I am sure that most, if not all of us have been impacted by suicide either among our families or close friends. My own family has been affected deeply.
So how do we prevent suicide? There are no easy answers, but there are steps all of us can take to help prevent our loved ones and our neighbors from committing suicide. First, we should be aware of the signs and symptoms of suicide. According to the National Institutes of health, the following are some of the signs to look for.
Talking about feeling empty, hopeless, or having no reason to live
Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves
Making a plan or looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online, stockpiling pills, or buying a gun
Talking about great guilt or shame
Talking about feeling trapped or feeling that there are no solutions
Feeling unbearable pain (emotional pain or physical pain)
Talking about being a burden to others
Using alcohol or drugs more often
Acting anxious or agitated
Withdrawing from family and friends
Changing eating and/or sleeping habits
Suicide does not discriminate. People of all genders, ages, and ethnicities can be at risk. Suicidal behavior is complex and there is no single cause. In fact, many different factors contribute to someone making a suicide attempt. But people most at risk tend to share certain characteristics. The main risk factors for suicide are:
Depression, other mental disorders, or substance abuse disorder
Certain medical conditions
A prior suicide attempt
Family history of a mental disorder or substance abuse
Family history of suicide
Family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
Having guns or other firearms in the home
Having recently been released from prison or jail
Being exposed to others' suicidal behavior, such as that of family members, peers, or celebrities
Finally, what are 5 action steps you and I can take to help someone in emotional pain?
Ask: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” It’s not an easy question but studies show that asking at-risk individuals if they are suicidal does not increase suicides or suicidal thoughts.
Keep them safe: Reducing a suicidal person’s access to highly lethal items or places is an important part of suicide prevention. While this is not always easy, asking if the at-risk person has a plan and removing or disabling the lethal means can make a difference.
Be there: Listen carefully and learn what the individual is thinking and feeling. Findings suggest acknowledging and talking about suicide may in fact reduce rather than increase suicidal thoughts.
Help them connect: Save the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s number in your phone so it’s there when you need it: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also help make a connection with a trusted individual like a family member, friend, spiritual advisor, or mental health professional.
Stay Connected: Staying in touch after a crisis or after being discharged from care can make a difference. Studies have shown the number of suicide deaths goes down when someone follows up with the at-risk person