Did you know that the week of September 8th-14th is National Suicide Prevention Week and that World Suicide Prevention Day is Septemeber 10? In fact, the month of September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Suicide is not an easy topic. Unfortunately, far too many of us have directly or indirectly been affected by suicide, whether by a close loved one or a distant acquaintance. It is estimated by the National Alliance on Mental Illness that about 40,000 people die from suicide every year.
Although suicide is a difficult subject, it is nevertheless important to create a dialogue in hopes that education and awareness can save lives. In fact, that is the main mission of National Suicide Prevention Month. During the month of September, mental health organizations including Suicide Prevention Lifeline, The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, National Alliance on Mental Illness, and many others, work to raise awareness about suicide prevention.
In honor of National Suicide Prevention Month, NJ Family Psychiatry & Therapy would like to join various other mental health organizations in offering some information regarding suicide. By bringing awareness to this issue and helping to educate people on how to help their loved ones, we hope that together we can decrease the occurrence of suicide. To help, we have compiled a list of frequently asked questions about suicide.
What causes suicide?
Unfortunately, there is no one “thing” that causes suicide. In general, suicide usually results from an individual feeling hopelessness and despair due to stressors, trauma, or health issues. Depression is commonly associated with suicide, however other conditions such as anxiety or substance abuse can also increase the risk. Another thing that increases the risk of suicide is undiagnosed or untreated mental health issues.
What are the risk factors for suicide?
Although most people who exhibit these risk factors do not attempt suicide, these factors can put an individual at a higher risk for suicidal thoughts or attempts:
- Self-destructive tendencies: someone who has attempted suicide before or who has abused substances in the past may be at a greater risk for suicide.
- Family history: those with a family history of mental health disorders, substance abuse disorders, suicide, violence, or sexual abuse may be at a greater risk for suicide.
- Age: those between the ages of 15-24 or those over the age of 60 are at a higher risk. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide is the second leading cause of death in young people.
- Gender: the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has found that while women are more likely to attempt suicide, men are more likely to die from suicide. This is partially because men tend to use firearms or suffocation, while women usually resort to poisoning.
It is important to note that risk factors do not determine for sure whether or not someone is at risk for suicidal behavior. Some people who exhibit risk factors may never become suicidal, while others with no risk factors may.
What are the warning signs of suicide?
While risk factors are things that may make someone more likely to become suicidal, warning signs are specific signs that someone may be actively thinking of suicide. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, warning signs of suicide can include:
- Mentioning that they want to die or kill themselves
- Saying they frequently feel empty, hopeless, or like their life has no meaning
- Feeling trapped or not seeing any solutions
- Social withdrawal from family and friends
- Expressing guilt, shame, or feeling like a burden to others
- Having unbearable physical and/or emotional pain
- Changes in appetite and sleeping patterns
- Engaging in risky behavior that could result in death
- Anxious or agitated behavior
- Drug or alcohol use
- Periods of rage or talk about revenge
- Extreme mood swings
- Preparing for the end by giving away possessions, saying goodbye, and making a will
How can I help prevent suicide?
For National Suicide Prevention Month, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has developed the #BeThe1To campaign, which is centered around the actions we can all take to prevent suicide. Here are some of the ways they believe we can prevent suicide:
- #BeThe1ToAsk: although many people believe that asking someone about suicide can actually put the idea in their head, research has shown that this is not the case. If you believe someone you know may be suicidal, it is recommended that you directly, and in a caring manner, ask them if they are suicidal or if they plan on killing themselves. Research has found that having a conversation about suicidal intent can actually reduce suicidal ideation. It also starts an important conversation that may result in them getting the help they need before it’s too late.
- #BeThe1ToKeepThemSafe: another way to prevent suicide is to limit the avaliability of lethal objects. Research has found that suicide rates decline when a lethal method is restricted.
- #BeThe1ToBeThere & #BeThe1ToHelpThemStayConnected: when someone is experiencing suicidal ideation, it is important to just be there for them without judgement. In fact, part of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s campaign is centered around the idea that the power of human connection can reduce suicide rates. Having support can help people feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful.
- #BeThe1ToFollowUp: someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts is not going to just suddenly be okay. As they are working on recovering and learning how to cope with stressors, it is important that they are still receiving consistent support from loved ones. It is important to regularly follow up and make sure they are still headed in the right direction.
Are there treatments available for those who are suicidal?
If you are in a situation where you or someone you know is a danger to themselves or others, the first thing you need to do is call 911 and get help immediately.
The most common treatments to prevent suicide are psychotherapy and medications. Psychotherapy, specifically Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), helps individuals to change their negative thought patterns. Research has found that people who are suicidal often process information differently and perceive events differently than others. CBT helps them to see things from a different perspective, which allows them to take control of their life.
In some cases, medications may also be necessary. This is especially the case if there is a mental illness involved. Depending on the type and severity of the condition, medications may be used temporarily or consistently. There are a variety of medications available and psychiatrists generally prescribe medications to patients based on the symptoms they are having rather than the mental illness. Before being placed on any medication, you will have a psychiatric consultation to determine which medication is the best for your needs.
Together we can work to prevent suicide and save lives. If you or someone you know is suffering with suicidal thoughts, please encourage them to take the first step towards recovery and seek help by scheduling a consultation. NJ Family Psychiatry & Therapy offers a team of psychologists and psychiatrists to help prevent suicide.