Talk about suicide openly to prevent it
Contributed by Okanogan Behavioral HealthCare and Sean Fitzpatrick, MA, LMHCA, DCR
Last updated 9/23/2020 at 8:43am
September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and while the topic of suicide is sensitive, it’s important that we talk about it openly to remove the stigma, learn how we can support those who are vulnerable, and help prevent it.
According to the University of Washington School of Social Work, suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in our state. Nationwide, more than 48,000 people in the United States died by their own hands in 2018 — that’s 5,000 more than the entire population of Okanogan County.
Those of us who haven’t seen or experienced the feelings of depression, helplessness and hopelessness that can lead to an attempt may not understand, may not recognize the risks, and may not know how to help someone about whom we care.
If we are to recognize and reduce the incidence of suicide and its devastating effects on individuals, families, friends and our communities, it’s critical that we learn the risk factors that increase the likelihood, learn to recognize the warning signs, and learn how best to help someone who may be considering it.
Knowing the factors that increase the risk of suicide can help alert you to the possibility in someone who may be struggling. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline notes that risk factors may include:
• Certain mood disorders and some types of personality disorders
• Alcohol and other substance use disorders
• Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
• Feelings of isolation, or a lack of social supports
• Loss, including a loved one, relationships, jobs, or financial/social status
• Exposure to/family history of/past attempt(s) of suicide
• History of trauma or abuse
• Impulsive and/or aggressive tendencies
• Major physical illnesses, or lack of healthcare (especially for behavioral health or substance use)
• Easy access to lethal means
• Stigma associated with asking for help, or
• Cultural and religious beliefs, such as the belief that suicide is a noble resolution of a personal dilemma.
There is no “one-size-fits-all” pattern of behaviors that indicate someone may be considering a suicide attempt. Yet, there are some recognizable warning signs:
• Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
• Looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or acquiring a gun
• Expressing feelings of hopelessness, no reason to live, or concern about being a burden to others
• Giving away belongings, pets or other possessions, or getting things in order for their departure
• Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
• Increased use of alcohol or drugs
• Acting anxious, agitated, or engaging in risky behaviors
• Extreme mood swings, exhibiting rage or discussing revenge
• Significant changes in sleeping patterns, or
• Withdrawing or isolating themselves.
Ways you can help
Once you know the risk factors and can recognize warning signs, you are better prepared to help. If you are concerned about someone who is having trouble coping or struggling emotionally:
• Be direct and ask, “Are you thinking about hurting yourself?” Give them your full attention and listen caringly and calmly.
• Don’t interrupt, let them talk.
• Let them know you are listening by nodding your head or by other verbal means of acknowledgement. Ask questions.
• Don’t minimize or challenge the validity of their feelings; accept what they are saying without judgement.
• Let them know that they are valued, that you are concerned about them, and that hope and help are available. Encourage them to seek help and let them know you will help them find and ask for it.
• It’s critical that any means for an attempt, such as weapons or drugs, be locked up or temporarily handed over to someone responsible for safekeeping.
• Never agree to keep it a secret; call for help.
If there is an imminent threat to someone’s safety, call 9-1-1 immediately.
Otherwise, call Okanogan Behavioral HealthCare’s Crisis Line at (509) 826-6191 or toll-free (866) 826-6191. Caring, compassionate counselors are available to help 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Those who are hearing impaired can contact the Crisis Line via TTY relay at (509) 826-2113.
You, and they, are not alone. Together, we can help save a life.