September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and this year, taking the subject of suicide out of the shadows feels more urgent than ever. Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control reported that the suicide rate in the United States increased by 24 percent in 15 years, between 1999 and 2014. Despite the efforts of many, suicide is on the rise. Yet, there has never been more hope on the horizon for those in need of help.
The past 10 years have shown groundbreaking, effective treatment methods for suicidal individuals. The suicidal state is almost always transient and temporary. If we can intervene and get people to the help they need, we can save lives. We can begin to do this by taking even a short amount of time to educate ourselves. This month, I'll be presenting free and CE Webinars on PsychAlive.org that will offer essential information that can help prevent suicide. In this blog, I offer five steps that we can all take to make a difference when it comes to stopping suicide.
1. Remove the stigma
The first thing we can all do to help prevent suicide is talk about it. No person in a suicidal state or struggling with any mental health issue should have to feel silenced or shamed. The same is true for people who are worried about a friend or family member. They should know that they can reach out and make a difference. Too often, people are afraid to bring up the subject of suicide, fearing that they'll be wrong or "put the idea in someone's head." This is a big misconception. People need to talk about suicide and open the doors of communication to those suffering with suicidal thoughts. These individuals need to know that they are not alone, and that there is an entire community who is there, who can relate, and who will support them in the hardest of times.
We can get more involved in this community and break the silence by taking actions like participating in an "Out of the Darkness" walk put on by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention or reaching out to survivors. Most importantly, we can educate ourselves on warning signs, helper tasks and resources, so we feel empowered as opposed to helpless when it comes to facing the issue of suicide. Also, removing the stigma is essential to provide help and resources to those families or friends who have lost a loved one to suicide. We need to make them feel comfortable to seek support.
2. Learn the warning signs
One of the most common questions I hear about suicide is, "How can I tell if a person is suicidal?" There are many warning signs for suicide that we can all look out for when we think someone may be in trouble. Common signs such as isolating oneself or perceiving oneself as a burden can cause a suicidal individual to withdraw, and therefore, we may be less inclined to notice what that person is going through. By getting to know these warning signs, we can be more aware, ask more questions, and intervene more quickly when someone needs our help.
- Disturbed sleep patterns
- Anxiety, agitation
- Pulling away from friends and family
- Past attempts
- Extremely self-hating thoughts
- Feeling like they don't belong
- Rage and irritability
- Feeling trapped
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Feeling that they are a burden to others
- Loss of interest in favorite activities -"nothing matters"
- Giving up on themselves
- Risk-taking behavior
- Suicidal thoughts, plans, actions
- Sudden mood changes for the better
Learn more about the warning signs for suicide from the American Association of Suicidology.
For adolescents and teenagers, check out this helpful video from The Mayo Clinic.
3. Learn how to reach out and connect
When we think someone may be suicidal, we can learn ways to reach out and show we care. Everyone can learn the helper tasks that can save a life. Just like CPR, there are a set of steps we can follow to help a suicidal person. One method is known as QPR: question, persuade, and refer. Training in QPR is available online as a one-hour course. Those trained are said to be better able to "recognize the warning signs of suicide, know how to offer hope and know how to get help and save a life."
When we approach someone who's suicidal, there are certain steps we should follow and ways we should engage. You can learn about these in more detail at PsychAlive.org. These steps include:
- Engage - Engage the person at risk in a personable way, use eye contact, give your full attention, don't act distracted.
- Explore - Explore their situation from his or her point of view by encouraging the open expression of their personal concerns. Show that you want to understand their feelings.
- Identify - Identify whether or not the person is currently thinking about suicide. Be direct, ask questions.
- Inquire - If the person is indeed contemplating suicide, you need to inquire into the reasons why these events and feelings are leading to a consideration of suicide at this time. Why now?
- Assess - Use closed questions that require a yes/no answer. Be specific. The questions you ask at this point address the persons plan for suicide and information about prior suicidal behavior. Your assessment is a combination of gut feelings and an assessment of risk factors you have learned about.
In a situation where a person's life is at stake, it is better to do too much than not enough. Help identify the personal strengths and opportunities that might orient him or her toward life. How did he or she solve serious problems previously? Be ready to speak for the side of them that wants to live.
After taking these steps, we can help that person make a plan of action or safety plan to help keep them safe. There is now a Safety Plan App that individuals can download to their mobile devices to help them take steps to stay safe when they're in crisis.
If you would like to learn more from someone who's survived and thrived after experiencing a suicidal crisis, please join Kevin Hines in a free Webinar we will co-present, "What We Need to Know to Prevent Suicide." Kevin will tell his inspiring story and share his mental wellness plan for creating a life worth living. If you want to hear more stories from survivors of a suicide attempt, visit livethroughthis.org.
Learn more about helper tasks at PsychAlive.org
4. Know the resources
Anyone who's suicidal or who is worried about someone who may be suicidal should know of certain resources that are available. These include:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Call or Chat Online)
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), and their website also has an online chat feature. You can contact them anytime if you're worried that you or someone you know may be in crisis.
- Crisis Text Line
There is a 24/7 Crisis Text Line available, where you can text trained crisis counselors. The text line is free and confidential and can be reached by texting "GO" TO 741741.
There are many APPS available that have been created to help people access the resources and tools they need when they're in distress. These include: ASK and Prevent Suicide, Suicide Crisis Support, Virtual Hope Box, and My3 Safety Plan App.
- Bereavement Groups
Survivors of Suicide can find a support group using the American Association of Suicidology's online directory.
5. Get training (for mental health professionals and anyone who provides health care)
Most practicing psychotherapists see five suicidal clients a month, while one in four therapists will lose a client to suicide. Yet, the majority of mental health professionals have not received sufficient training in dealing with a suicidal client, having been provided limited information that often doesn't meet the current standard of care. This year, I and my team at The Glendon Association, produced an online course "Suicide: What Mental Health Professionals Need to Know" in order to make in-depth, state of the art training easily accessible to professionals.
In the past decade, there has been a wealth of insightful and essential data revealing what works when it comes to treating suicidal people. Dr. David Jobes is at the forefront of this research. His Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicidality, CAMS approach, developed over 25 years, is one of few suicide specific, empirically validated methods for treating suicidal individuals and has been proven to be highly effective in a variety of clinical settings with a range of suicidal clients. You can learn more about Dr. Jobes' approach in the PsychAlive Webinar "Preventing Suicide: Treatments that Work."
By accessing and sharing the essential information that is readily available on suicide, we can all do our part to help people get the help they need when they need it. We can end the stigma and help save lives from senselessly being lost to suicide.