National Suicide Prevention Week is coming up, beginning Sunday, September 6th. This comes at a particularly crucial time as ongoing social distancing has increased the dangers of isolation for a large number of community members. Accordingly, building awareness about risk signs for suicide and providing education about resources available is more important than ever.
Nationwide, suicide has been a growing concern for some time. The CDC notes that suicide rates have increased by 30% since 1999. Of those deaths, 46% have a known mental condition.
A number of risk factors can contribute to the likelihood of a suicide attempt, including:
- A family history of suicide or previous suicide attempts
- Substance abuse
- Access to firearms
- Chronic mental illness or a serious physical health condition
- A history of trauma or abuse
- Prolonged stress
- A recent tragedy or loss
Groups at higher risk
Research shows that suicide rates are particularly high within certain demographic groups.
1. Youth and teens: Suicide is the second most common cause of death among youth ages 10-24. Three underlying causes within this group are:
- Cyberbullying or bullying
- Sexual orientation
- Local epidemics of suicides or “suicide clusters”
With the loss of structure and routine provided by many school and sports activities, cultivating good mental health in children and adolescents is particularly important.
2. Middle-aged men: Suicide is also the #2 cause of death in men under age 44, but male stereotypes deter many from seeking treatment. Additionally, warning signs are often overlooked as part of day-to-day stress, since depression in men often presents itself as irritability, difficulty sleeping, or loss of interest in typical activities.
With many currently out of jobs or working remotely for the foreseeable future, stress levels are higher than ever.
3. First responders: High levels of on-the-job stress paired with the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are top areas of concern for this demographic. Additionally, concern over risking one’s standing at work has created a troubling trend with first responders. More law enforcement officers and fire fighters die by suicide than in the line of duty, a number that continues to rise.
4. Veterans: Like first responders, the Veteran population is heavily impacted by PTSD. Additionally, as weapons used in military conflicts have become more sophisticated, we have seen an increase in traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). Many TBIs have a lifelong impact on physical function, behavior and personality and overall mental health. The suicide rate for Veterans is 1.5 times higher than for non-Veteran adults over 18.
The good news is that we can educate ourselves to prevent the loss of life. There are a number of common warning signs for suicide to look for:
- Increased drug and alcohol use
- Aggressive behavior
- Withdrawal from friends, family and community
- Dramatic mood swings
- Impulsive or reckless behavior
- Talking about suicide, particularly if they have a plan
- Giving away important possessions
- Changes in sleep patterns
Keeping in regular contact with loved ones at high risk through phone calls, video and texts can help you determine if they enter a period of distress.
Bring in support
If you are concerned, ask your loved one if they are thinking about suicide. Being direct shows that you are open to a conversation. Focus on listening and empathizing; don’t minimize their thoughts or attempt to provide a quick solution. During the conversation, try to determine if they have a plan established, which would indicate a more imminent risk. It is a myth that asking someone if they are considering suicide will actually give them the idea to do so.
Your ability to be calm is important. Try not to raise your voice, move slowly and be patient. Reassure them that there are resources available, and that you want to help them connect with those services. This can involve contacting a suicide prevention line (1-800-273-8255) searching for local resources, or offering to call their insurance company. If you can, remove dangerous items such as guns, knives, or pills. NAMI has put together a resource guide for navigating a mental health crisis that can be useful.
If you suspect someone is in danger, do not hesitate to contact 911. And remember, you are not alone. NAMI has resources for loved ones and caregivers as well.
To help reduce stigma and promote education during Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, learn more here.