September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

The end of a personal relationship. The loss of a job. Everybody faces difficult times in life, and people cope with stressful situations in different ways but suicide is a problem that touches the lives of many Americans.

The decision to take one’s own life is both excruciatingly personal and impersonally demographical.

Many of us may know someone, such as a friend, family member, or coworker who has attempted or died by suicide. For every completed suicide, there are 25 attempted by others.

People who have attempted suicide can help save the lives of others by telling their own story. Sharing lets people know that they are not alone and shows that recovery is possible. If done safely, it can encourage people at risk to seek help.

It is important to feel comfortable talking about suicide. Understanding the how and why around suicide risk could help save a life. If you want to learn more about mental health resources and how you can help raise awareness, consider these resources.

Someone who is in a deep depression may reach a point of hopelessness at the same moment he happens to pass by a bridge, leading to an impulsive, tragic decision that even he may not have foreseen.

On the other hand, societal trends are well-known: elderly people commit suicide at rates that are 50 percent higher than young people, whites nearly three times more than blacks, men nearly four times more than women.

This mix of factors makes year-to-year changes difficult to interpret but most recent numbers show that over the past two decades, suicide rates have steadily risen in the United States.

In the United States, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among all ages. It takes more lives than homicide, war, and natural disasters combined.

It’s important for you to know that suicide is preventable. With commitment and engagement in our communities, workplaces, and homes, together we can help reduce the number of suicides.

Among the the warning signs that someone is at risk for suicide are:

  • Feeling extreme depression, guilt, or shame.
  • Feeling hopeless.
  • Talking about, or preoccupation with, death or suicide.
  • Preparing for death, such as updating/preparing a will, giving away possessions, or taking steps to access lethal means (buying a firearm, acquiring quantities of pills/medication, researching ways to die).
  • Exhibiting a dramatic change in behavior, including withdrawal from friends or usual activities, increased alcohol/drug use, difficulties in sleeping or eating, decreased self-care.

If you believe someone needs help, we encourage you to follow the ACE (Ask, Care, Escort) suicide prevention model, with these easy-to-remember steps:

Ask – Ask, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” Although it may feel awkward, research shows that people having thoughts of suicide feel relief when someone asks them in a caring way.

Care – Show you care. The context of caring makes it a lot easier to ask the hard questions about suicide. By actively listening and engaging, without judgment, you are showing that you care – this might just be enough to help the person feel relief and that they are not alone.

Escort – When someone acknowledges that they are feeling suicidal or hopeless, care enough to connect them to the nearest helping resource. Do not leave them alone! If possible, separate them from methods of harm.

Resources are available for someone who is suicidal or in need of help.

Take the person to the nearest Emergency Room, where they will receive a full suicide assessment and receive needed care. If the person is hesitant to receive emergency healthcare, call 911.

Call 1-800-273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and follow their guidance.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a free resource that’s available to anyone. You can also visit their website for more information.

The new three-digit dialing code 988 has been designated as a fast way that will route callers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, just as 911 connects callers to emergency assistance.

Alternately, text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free, 24/7.

If the person you know has a mental health professional that they see, help them schedule an urgent appointment. If they do not have an existing connection with a mental health professional, help them make an urgent appointment with their family physician.

Understanding the issues concerning suicide and mental health is an important way to take part in suicide prevention, help others in crisis, and change the conversation around suicide.

If a veteran or military service member is in danger, concerned or felling hopeless, the Veterans Crisis Line will help him or her get through the crisis and connected with the services from a local VA medical center or elsewhere in your community.

If a veteran or military service member decides to share contact information, the suicide prevention coordinator at the nearest VA medical center will make a follow-up contact by the next business day and stay in touch.

If you or the Veteran or service member you’re concerned about is not at imminent risk for injury or suicide, the Veterans Crisis Line responder will still listen, offer support, and help make a plan to stay safe.

Editor’s note: If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or by dialing 988.

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