As family members, friends, and confidants, we have a responsibility to assist the people we care about. September is recognized as National Suicide Prevention Month, which presents an opportunity to learn as much as we can about this sensitive, yet urgent, issue. How can we discern if someone we love is having suicidal thoughts, and how can we take preventative action?
WHERE DO SUICIDAL THOUGHTS COME FROM?
For people who have never seriously contemplated ending their own lives, it is challenging to understand the mindset of an individual with suicidal ideation. As the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), however, understanding where suicidal thoughts come from is necessary if we want to help individuals contemplating suicide.
People who are suicidal often do not know how to obtain help. While prolonged suffering is typical in suicide-related cases, it is important to remember that suicidal persons are not always merely trying to escape the pain. Most genuinely believe that there is no good reason to continue living and that the world will be a better place without them.
IDENTIFYING COMMON RISK FACTORS FOR SUICIDE
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), 90% of people who die by suicide are experiencing a mental health issue at the time of their death. Depression is one of the most common factors attached to suicidal ideation, but people who experience bipolar tendencies or other mood-altering conditions are also at higher risk. Psychosis, excessive alcohol consumption, and the use of mind-altering drugs are other factors that can increase impulsivity and heighten the risk of suicide.
The highest rates of suicide occur among adults between the ages of 45 and 64, followed closely by adults 85 and older. Children, too, can become suicidal; one in 65,000 children ages 10-14 dies by suicide each year in the U.S. Issues such as the death of a parent, divorce, bullying, sexual abuse, or social exclusion can increase the likelihood of suicide among preteens. The main concern in these cases is that parents and teachers often believe that young children will not attempt suicide.
IMPORTANCE OF THERAPY IN SUICIDE PREVENTION
Therapy is one of the best tools for suicide prevention. Mental health professionals usually approach the situation in one of two ways: by targeting the conditions underlying a person’s suicidal thoughts (depression, for example), or by targeting a person’s suicidal ideations directly.
SUICIDE PREVENTION STRATEGIES
If a family member or friend expresses suicidal thoughts, do not ignore them. They might desperately need your help. Here are a few tactful steps you can take to help a loved one at risk for suicide:
- Ask questions in a mild and sincere manner.
- Explain why you are asking questions.
- Express that your loved one is not alone. Tell them you are there for them and will continue to be there.
- If the individual is not comfortable speaking with you, suggest a qualified third party such as a therapist, spiritual leader, or doctor.
- Do not passively tell the person to just call a hotline; lead the person to helpful resources such as suicide hotlines and local mental health associations.
- Help the person schedule and keep appointments with a mental health professional, even if the individual no longer feels suicidal.