“Are you thinking about suicide?”
This could be one of the most important questions you ever ask.
September is Suicide Awareness month.
Many of us are unaware that suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34 and was the 10th leading cause of death overall in the United States in 2019. Among high school students, 1 in 5 has seriously thought about suicide, and nearly 9% have attempted. Four out of five teens who attempted suicide have given clear warning signs.
These statistics are scary, but there is hope! We can prevent this tragedy by identifying and supporting young people who are struggling with mental health symptoms, including thinking about suicide. Some individuals and communities are more at risk than others, including people of color, indigenous peoples, and the LGBTQ+ community.
Creating a caring community lets those in need know that they are not alone and that there is hope. Remember, silence hurts us all.
It has been proven that asking the tough question, "Are you thinking of hurting yourself?" does NOT lead to suicidal tendencies. In fact, it can reduce ideations and attempts. We should encourage everyone to become comfortable talking about suicide and make sure to check on friends and loved ones. The more we talk about it and provide support and understanding, the more lives we can save.
If you suspect someone is struggling, ask them or tell someone who is in a position to help. Don't be afraid to reach out to the parents of your child's friends or the student’s school counselor about their struggles or warning signs you see. This could save a child’s life! Kids need to learn how to spot signs in their friends, too, and feel impowered to speak up when necessary. If your student needs advice or assistance, their school counselor is always a good place to start.
Signs to Look For & Steps to Take
There are quite a few things that have been associated with increased risk for suicide. It is important to be aware of these signs:
• Prior suicide attempts
• Family history of suicide
• History of mental health conditions
• Substance misuse
• Impulsivity or aggressiveness
• Serious family problems
• Breakups or other major relationship losses
• Access to means for self-harm
• Social isolation
• History of traumatic experiences
There are also several things that might indicate that the person’s thoughts of suicide are escalating or that there is more acute risk, including:
• Talking, joking, or posting online about dying or life not being worth living
• Feelings of hopelessness, shame or of being a burden to others
• Extreme sadness, anger, or irritability
• Planning or researching ways to die
• Withdrawal from others, saying or posting “goodbye” messages, giving away possessions
• Erratic or disorganized behavior
• Seeking means to self-harm
If you have observed any of these signs or risk factors, and are concerned about someone, here's 5 steps you can take:
► Start by offering compassion (not advice), avoid judgment, acknowledge their suffering, and just listen.
► After that, ask them if they are thinking of suicide. Be calm and direct. Asking will NOT put the idea into their mind.
► If you are confident that they are not in immediate danger, and they have a mental health treatment provider, contact them for next steps. If they do not have a mental health provider, contact the person's primary doctor or pediatrician.
► If you feel their life, or someone else’s life is in danger, then take away all objects that could pose a danger (medications, firearms, knives, ropes, chemicals).
► Next, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or any other resource listed. Call 9-1-1 in an emergency or last resort. Let the operator know that this is a mental health crisis.
Additional Resources & Helpful Websites
This article was brought to you by Northshore Council PTSA's Mental Health Committee.