Last month, September 2023, was Suicide Awareness Month. It is the time of the year that reminds us to become more aware of one of the leading causes of death in many societies: suicide. Sadly, suicides happen all year and countless lives are lost to suicide yearly. A 2021 suicide statistic reveals that about 132 Americans commit suicide every day.
But the best part is suicide is preventable, and we all have a role to play in its prevention. While you cannot bring back lost lives, you can definitely show your show support during Suicide Awareness Month, learn the warning signs of suicide, and save a life.
What is the Significance of Suicide Awareness Month?
A World Health Organization (WHO) report revealed that one person commits suicide every second. Therefore, Suicide Awareness Month makes us more conscious of this fact. Although it is important to address suicide prevention at all times, September provides an opportunity for suicide prevention advocates, mental health experts, survivors, and the community to work together to save lives that could potentially be lost to suicide.
In addition, many people see Suicide Awareness Month as a time to remember their loved ones who committed suicide, grieve, and heal from their loss.
What are the causes of suicide?
Many things can push a person to commit suicide or attempt it. A lot of people often see the major cause as a mental health issue, like depression. However, this is not always the case since you can be depressed without being suicidal. According to the CDC, there are no known mental health issues in over half of people who took their own lives.
Eric Schmidt, MSSW, LCSW, CEO of New Roads Behavioral Health, reminds us that people experience suicidal ideation not because they want to die. He says, “I’ve worked with suicidal people for decades. No one has ever said, “I’m thinking of suicide because I’m just interested in what comes after death.”” Rather, people begin to experience suicidal ideation as a solution. They say, in their minds, “I can take my life. Then all this pain will be gone.” This creates temporary relief from anxiety, pain, overwhelm, etc., which ironically and tragically reinforces suicidal thinking. Thus, our brain becomes much more likely to produce suicidal thoughts each time it experiences painful and unwanted thoughts and feelings, which reinforces suicidal ideation again and again – creating a vicious cycle.
Dr. Mark Goulston, an American Psychiatrist and inventor of Surgical Empathy, explained in a podcast session with James Whittaker that issues like depression or failure do not necessarily cause a person to think of killing themselves, although they may contribute to it. From his experience working with suicidal patients, he identified the leading cause of suicide as “despair.” He broke down the word into “des” and “pair,” explaining that patients with suicidal thoughts feel unpaired with any reason to live. This feeling creates hopelessness, meaninglessness, and purposelessness.
Several reasons that can breed a feeling of despair in anyone include:
- Physical health issues: From disabilities to severe pain, these issues can make patients question the essence of their survival and go as far as attempting suicide.
- Mental health issues: Conditions like depression, bipolar disorder, and psychosis can also contribute to suicidal attempts.
- Religion and culture: Some religions and cultures may spread teachings and practices that make followers feel unworthy of life for doing or refusing to do certain things. A study conducted among 321 adult patients in 2016 found that the rate of past suicide attempts was higher among depressed patients affiliated with a religion.
- Loneliness: Loneliness often involves social isolation, which can increase a feeling of hopelessness and reduce access to suicide support when suicidal thoughts arise.
- Previous suicide attempt: Previously attempting suicide without success can make a person gain more knowledge on ways to make their next attempts successful. The WHO noted that there are over 20 attempts for each suicide.
- Violence and abuse: Victims of violence and sexual abuse often feel trapped in the abuse and might see suicide as their only option for freedom. Also, the trauma they experience can make them withdraw socially and limit their access to suicide support.
- Suicide contagion effect: Also called copycat suicide, this effect explains a situation where the suicidal act of one person influences another person to commit suicide. When suicide is widely discussed without much support given to victims, it can cause suicide to be seen as a normalized solution to problems.
- Substance abuse: Abusing alcohol and drugs can impair the rational judgment of users and make them more likely to act on suicidal thoughts.
- Sexual orientation and gender identity: Although sexual orientation and gender identity are not a direct cause of suicide, persons in the LGBTQ+ community commonly experience mental health struggles. A survey showed that lesbians, gays, and bisexuals have higher chances of feeling sad or hopeless than heterosexuals. The suicide statistics also revealed that 46.8% of LGB participants considered attempting suicide during the 12 months before conducting the survey.
- Lack of coping skills: Not everyone has the skills to deal with life’s stresses, causing them to be overwhelmed easily and resort to taking their lives.
Are there warning signs to look out for?
It is impossible to bring back a life that is already lost. That’s why looking out for potential warning signs and promptly seeking suicide treatment in SLC Utah is very important. However, spotting some of these signs can be challenging because a person might wear the biggest smile and look like they are having the best day of their life. But you could hear in the news later that day that the same “happy” person took their own life.
Suicide Awareness Month is an excellent opportunity to learn more about the warning signs of suicide and spread awareness. So, here are subtle and obvious signs you need to look out for.
- Verbal clues, like talking about feeling trapped, experiencing unbearable pain, wanting to die, or feeling hopeless
- Increased alcohol and drug usage
- Extreme mood swings
- Increased irritability and rage
- Loss of interest in hobbies
- Sudden improvement after severe episodes of depression, sadness, or despair
- Saying unusual goodbyes
- Neglect of personal hygiene
- Drastic changes in sleep pattern
- Reckless or impulsive behaviors
- Giving out a valuable possession they would not give up so easily
- Feeling like a burden to others
- Changes in appetite and weight
- Expressing a belief suggesting they have no future goal
Some of these signs by themselves might seem harmless. But as the saying goes, it’s the little things that matter the most. So, if you notice someone exhibiting one or more of these signs, you can take swift action and encourage them to seek suicide treatment in SLC Utah.
What should I do if I spot these warning signs in someone?
Taking fast action is essential when it comes to suicide prevention. You can take the following steps once you notice any of the above warning signs.
- Engage in a conversation: When you suspect someone is suicidal, the best thing you can do is approach them gently and engage in a conversation. Let them know you care about them and will listen without judgment. During the conversation, the person might not admit they are contemplating suicide. However, you must listen actively and check for verbal and behavioral clues suggesting otherwise. Also, ensure you pay attention to how the person talks about their issues or trauma and if they try to down-talk or laugh over them.
- Ask directly: It is a myth that asking someone about suicide will encourage an attempt to commit suicide. The reality is a person with suicidal thoughts can decide to act on it anytime, whether you talk about it or not. You might even be surprised to find that most people with suicidal thoughts might not be scared to reveal their intentions because nothing really matters to them at that point. The only way you could turn this myth into a fact is if you are judgmental in asking and inconsiderate with your words. So, ensure you manage conversations about suicide with care.
- Be empathetic: It can be very hard to truly understand how a suicidal patient feels if you have never had suicidal thoughts. You have to drop your personal judgments, place yourself in the person’s shoes, and see things from their point of view. Although you may find the reason someone else is suicidal trivial, remember that the pain means something to them.
- Avoid judgments: The worst thing you can do to a suicidal person is judge them or their situation. Although you shouldn’t validate the suicidal thought or act, you should validate their feelings and let them know anyone in their shoes would feel that way. Avoid words like “you are not the first person to go through this situation” or “get over it.” These words can contribute to their withdrawal and make them feel unseen or unheard.
- Remove means of self-harm: Be sure to remove any means of self-harm, like drugs and sharp objects, from the patient’s environment. Also, keep them from isolating themselves as much as possible.
- Encourage professional help: You can help by contacting suicide helplines and encouraging a person thinking of taking their life to receive suicide treatment in SLC Utah. It is crucial to spread awareness of these helplines and suicide prevention resources (American Psychological Association, 2006).
How to be a part of Suicide Prevention all year
Suicide is a silent battle many people fight daily. The good news is you can play a role in its prevention and help many people win this battle. Aside from the suggestions made earlier on what to do if you spot someone with suicidal thoughts, here are other ways to lend your voice to help with Suicide Prevention even though Suicide Prevention Month, September 2023, is over.
- Offer a hug: There is a popular “hug a stranger” trend where a person stands in a public place with a placard, indicating that anyone who needs a hug can hug that person. You can follow this trend and offer a hug to anyone who needs it to observe Suicide Awareness Month. A good hug can enhance relaxation and positively impact our mental health.
- Use social media: Social media is powerful because its information can influence the audience’s values, beliefs, and attitudes toward life. You can use different social medium platforms to reach more people and spread awareness about suicide. You can also share posts and articles that can help those silently fighting suicidal thoughts.
- Share suicide survivor stories: If you are a survivor of a suicide attempt or know other survivors, then you can share your stories to inspire others going through similar experiences.
- Support Organizations: You can volunteer with organizations running campaigns for mental health awareness and suicide prevention.
- Share crisis helpline numbers and resources: You can also recommend suicide treatment in SLC Utah to help those who might need it.
- Organize fundraising events: Organizing events like movie nights and charity runs is a great idea to raise funds for organizations supporting mental health and suicide prevention.
- Be Kind with your words: Suicide Awareness Month serves as a reminder to be careful with your words and actions towards others. Research shows that our words can contribute to a person’s stigma or aggravate their emotional distress. Therefore, it’s important to always avoid making mean comments or pointing out people’s insecurities because you never know what another person is going through.
Suicide awareness month is a time to strengthen our responsibility to protect and support individuals that have fallen victim to suicide and those with suicidal intent. It is a period to have a positive impact on individuals and communities at large. That said, it is something we need to focus on all year.
Finally, you can encourage survivors to share their stories to help those struggling with suicidal thoughts build hope and resilience through their difficult times. Suicide is merely a permanent solution to a temporal problem. Henceforth, let’s come together to combat suicide and create a new world; in which suicide isn’t an option.
If you or anybody you know is contemplating suicide, you can reach out to us for suicide treatment in SLC Utah.