Tara Dale LISW-S, Psychiatric Intake Response Center
Suicide has become a public health crisis in the United States. In 2017, more than 47,000 people died by suicide. The rate of suicide among teens is over 14%. Stigma around mental health creates a shadow over those struggling with anxiety and depression. Often people avoid conversations about mental illness due to fear, shame, feeling uncomfortable and not knowing what to say. It is important to know the warning signs of suicide so that you can try to help those in your life who may have those thoughts. September is National Suicide Awareness Month and everyone can take steps to help prevent suicide. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (2019) identified some warning signs to look for:
If a person talks about:
- Killing themselves
- Feeling hopeless
- Having no reason to live
- Being a burden to others
- Feeling trapped
- Unbearable pain
Behaviors that may signal risk, especially if related to a painful event, loss or change:
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Looking for a way to end their lives, such as searching online for methods
- Withdrawing from activities Isolating from family and friends
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
- Giving away prized possessions
People who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods:
- Loss of interest
- Relief/Sudden Improvement
The impact of suicide has become more visible due to various Hollywood storylines including the Netflix show, 13 Reasons Why. This is popular yet controversial series (based on a book with the same name) primarily focuses on the events leading up to and the aftermath of a young girl’s suicide. The series highlights various struggles adolescents may encounter including peer pressure, bullying, mental illness and sexual assault. The show depicts the devasting effects of suicide and has also sparked debate about how and when it should be discussed and portrayed in the media to avoid negatively impacting vulnerable youth. The show premiered its third season this past August and the network has added various discretionary warnings for viewers including that it may not be appropriate for individuals who are struggling with those issues. It also encouraged teens who do choose to watch it, to only view with a trusted adult who can help them to process what they have seen. It is important for adults to know what to say and how to help if a teen in your life chooses to watch this show or is struggling with suicidal thoughts.
Studies have shown that discussing suicide does not increase the likelihood of an individual attempting suicide but rather that acknowledging and talking about suicidal thoughts can help to reduce those thoughts (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 2019). The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides guidelines for 5 action steps to support an individual who may be at risk of suicide.
- Ask. Ask them directly, “are you having thoughts of killing yourself?” You can also ask them how you can help. Do not ever promise to keep their thoughts of suicide a secret.
- Keep them safe. Identify any potential imminent safety concerns that would warrant additional intervention from trained professionals. Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room if there are concerns.
- Be there. Show them support by being physically present or talking with them on the phone. Be sure to not make commitments you cannot keep.
- Help Them Connect. Talk to them about contacting a crisis line and connecting with mental health professionals.
- Follow up. Check in with them after your initial conversation to see how they are doing. You can do this by visiting them, calling or texting them.
Each of us can be a part of keeping those at risk of suicide safe. Those who struggle with suicidal thoughts can often feel isolated and alone. Being available to listen and to talk can make a huge difference and potentially save a life. Anyone who is concerned that a youth is in immediate risk of suicide, you should call 911 or Cincinnati Children’s Hospital’s Psychiatric Intake Response Center (PIRC) at 513-636-4124. Individuals in crisis can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “TALK” to 741741.