September is National Suicide Prevention Month. All month, mental health advocates, prevention organizations, survivors, allies, and community members unite to promote suicide prevention awareness.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among Americans, and it’s getting worse. From 1999 to 2018, the suicide rate has increased by 35 percent, according to the CDC. People of color have higher rates than other groups, such as American Indian and Native Alaskans, who have the highest suicide rate among all Americans. And there are rising suicide rates among black youth, especially boys. Their suicide rates are increasing faster than any other racial/ethnic group.
Dr. Jonathan Singer, president of the American Association of Suicidology (AAS), makes a distinction between suicidal thoughts, attempts, and deaths. “There is an assumption that there is a linear relationship between suicide ideation, attempts, and deaths, but there’s not.” And not everyone who has suicidal thoughts or attempts has a mental illness. Many people who had attempted or died by suicide did not have a known pre-existing mental health condition at the time of death.
Suicide Prevention Lifeline, suicidepreventionlifeline.org, offers these recommendations:
Ask: Research shows people who are having thoughts of suicide feel relief when someone asks after them in a caring way. Findings suggest acknowledging and talking about suicide may reduce rather than increase suicidal ideation. In a recent workshop that I attended, we were encouraged to normalize suicidal thoughts and ask directly, “It is normal for many people who feel the way you do, to consider suicide. Is this true for you?”
Be There: Individuals are more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful after speaking to someone who listens without judgment. Give them permission to speak their truth.
Keep Them Safe: Take away access to weapons. Some studies have indicated that when lethal means are made less available or less deadly, suicide rates by that method decline, and frequently suicide rates overall decline.
Help Them Stay Connected: Studies indicate that helping someone at risk create a network of resources and individuals for support and safety can help them take positive action and reduce feelings of hopelessness.
Follow Up: Studies have also shown that brief, low-cost intervention and supportive, ongoing contact may be an important part of suicide prevention, especially for individuals after they have been discharged from hospitals or care services.
I saw an interesting Facebook post on suicide prevention. “It’s suicide prevention month and just a reminder that affordable housing is suicide prevention; livable wages are suicide prevention; universal healthcare is suicide prevention.” The point is that prevention is wider than the individual. Prevention is also addressed on a systemic level.
On the upside, for every one person who dies by suicide, 280 people move past serious thoughts about killing themselves. Of those who attempt suicide and survive, more than 90 percent go on to live out their lives. There is power in communication. Sharing positive stories has a beneficial effect. Studies indicate that the reporting of individual suicidal thoughts following recovery is associated with a decrease in suicide rates. Suicide prevention centers on hope. People need hope to increase their will to live. It is important to share recovery stories.