Gaining Perspective On Suicide
People are forced to face all kinds of problems in their lives–from being laid off to getting their heart broken to some overwhelming or traumatic experience or personal loss, life reversal or setback, chronic or terminal illness, experiencing mental illness and other mood and behavioral disorders, etc. Some of these problems and issues we are able to overcome, others lead to severe distress, depression and, unfortunately, too often, suicide, a health issue that has now been labeled “an epidemic,” causing more deaths each year in the United States than automobile accidents, twice as many fatalities as AIDS.
People of every age, race, economic background, culture, social, religious and sexual identity commit suicide. It is the 3rd leading cause of death of teenagers, 2nd of college students, 2nd of men 25-34, 3rd of women 15-24, 4th of women 25-44 and the list goes on. Suicide touches the youngest and oldest members of our society, those who are most fragile and vulnerable but, surprisingly, almost half the suicides in this country are committed by men age 35-to-64, a group that has the most education, professional status and highest income.
The National Institute of Mental Health states that 26% of adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder annually and the National Mental Health Association reports that 60% of those experiencing these health problems “do not receive psychological services.” Depression is the leading source of absenteeism, workers’ compensation and disability in the US with a total economic cost of $83 billion a year.
Understanding Suicide Prevention
In spite of the common perception, suicide prevention is not about death and dying, people standing on the edge of a cliff and threatening to jump. Suicide prevention is about life, living and exploring options, recognizing people who are currently in distress and crisis and helping them to get through their difficult times by providing additional coping tools, resources and support.
Though the majority of people who attempt suicide are experiencing some form of ongoing emotional problem, mental illness or trauma, the act of suicide itself can be precipitated by everything from a bad day to a broken heart to the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, ongoing feelings of hopelessness and helplessness that can be tied to almost anything that impacts a person’s life.
Suicide prevention education creates awareness about suicide and counters the stigma tied to mental illness and the many myths and misconceptions people have about suicide (the most common being the belief that talking about it might give someone the idea), knowledge of the warning signs and risk factors, the keys to communicating with, assessing and responding to someone who is depressed or in crisis, and the resources and treatments that are available.
The Good News
Research suggests that as many as 75% of the people who attempt suicide do something or say something to let others know before they act, meaning there is often a significant opportunity to intervene and provide help and support.
Effective suicide prevention education and readiness creates a safety net that enhances our ability to identify problems and respond to a person in distress before their mental and/or emotional state(s) lead to self-destructive, violent and suicidal behavior.
And since the same methods and approaches that help us to identify and respond to someone who is depressed and potentially suicidal are also effective in responding to individuals dealing with alcohol and substance abuse, domestic violence, child abuse, PTSD and other personal, physical and mental health problems—effective suicide prevention education and safety planning reduces the number of dramatic and/or tragic circumstances family members, work places and communities must experience.
The Keys to Effective Suicide Prevention
There are many knowledgeable sources of suicide prevention education and planning and experts who have done research in the field. The vast majority agree to the following key points:
- encourage suicide prevention education for individuals and organizations
- address stigma and the myths and misconceptions people have about suicide
- expand your knowledge of information, resources and available professional help
- develop “early warning” systems at home, with family, and at work, with clients
- take all talk of suicide seriously (even if it only seems to be in passing)
- don’t be afraid to get involved and talk to someone about what he/she is feeling and thinking
- be aware of high-risk populations (those experiencing mental disorders, trauma, substance abuse, victims of violence, bullying, abuse, people dealing with sexual identity issues, etc.)
- know the warning signs, risk and protective factors of depression and suicide
- do not leave a person who is “high risk” or planning suicide alone
- reduce access to lethal means that can be used to attempt suicide (medications, guns, etc.).
To Learn More
To learn more about Responding To Someone who is depressed, in crisis or suicidal, click here.
To learn more about suicide prevention, education, safety planning and related information, research, resources and professional services review the various topics under the Get Help and Resources buttons at the top of the page.
The NYC Resource Guide provides free, on-line access to the majority of topics and issues involved in effective suicide prevention, planning and responses. For more information and to download a copy of your own, click here.