This is National Suicide Prevention Week (September 10-16). We all know what suicide is. We hear about it. It’s something that happens to other people. I remember being touched by a documentary called The Bridge many years ago. I thought about it a lot when I had the incredible opportunity to run over the Golden Gate years later. I could never have imagined then how I would be touched by suicide.
WARNING SIGNS OF SUICIDE
- Talking about wanting to die
- Looking for a way to kill oneself
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or feeling isolated
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Displaying extreme mood swings
The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. Warning signs are associated with suicide but may not be what causes a suicide.
WHAT TO DO
If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide:
- Do not leave the person alone
- Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt
- Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255)
- Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional
THE NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE 800-273-TALK (8255)
A free, 24/7 service that can provide suicidal persons or those around them with support, information and local resources.
After Chris died, when I finally had the courage – almost a year later – to tell our story, I was surprised by the number of people who came forward to me as survivors of suicide loss. Brothers. Cousins. Fathers. Mothers. Sons. Daughters. Aunts and Uncles. Why didn’t I know this? Why didn’t I know how common suicide was when my family was at risk?
Suicide is a Leading Cause of Death in the United States
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2015:
- Suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of more than 44,000 people.
- Suicide was the third leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 14, and the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 15 and 34.
- There were more than twice as many suicides (44,193) in the United States as there were homicides (17,793).
I know why. Because suicide – and mental health – is still so difficult to talk about. I remember standing in my kitchen that night finally alone with my husband’s mother and brother and our daughter after the police had left. I said, “What are we supposed to tell people?” To which my mother-in-law answered, “Nothing.”
I was part of the problem. I sent my daughter back to school a week later thinking we had something to hide. I had called the school the morning after. They knew. Her teachers knew. Everyone was supportive, but there was no wide spread communication to the community about our loss; no far-reaching show of support that usually comes with the news of the sudden loss of a 49-year-old father of a high school freshman.
I only told my immediate circle of friends and anyone else as needed or anyone who point-blank asked. I was always truthful. As I’d run into people for the first time in the months that followed – people that hadn’t heard – I told them. It was quite the conversation stopper. Where do you go after that news?
People in my town believe that the railroad tracks that intersect our main street are dangerous; that better gates, better warnings, will discourage “trespassers” from crossing the tracks in the path of an oncoming train. They would somehow rather believe that people are that stupid and careless, than think for a minute we have a suicide issue.
Nationally, we talk about gun violence. Yet, almost two-thirds of deaths by firearms are suicides, not homicides. Although most gun owners cite self-defense as the number one reason for gun ownership, having a gun in the house increases suicide risk.
“Not all of those suicides are by gun, but a majority are. And while some people feeling suicidal impulses will choose another method if a gun is not at hand, public health researchers cite two reasons guns are particularly dangerous: 1) Guns are more lethal than most other methods people try, so someone who attempts suicide another way is more likely to survive 2) Studies suggest that suicide attempts often occur shortly after people decide to kill themselves, so people with deadly means at hand when the impulse strikes are more likely to use them than those who have to wait or plan.
“That means that strategies that make suicide more inconvenient or difficult can save lives. Guns, when they are in the home, can make self-harm both easy and deadly.”
Mental health and suicide need to be discussed. We need to understand warning signs and what to do when people are at risk. It’s not something to be embarrassed about or to hide from in anyway. Suicide is a national health crisis and we need to start saving lives!
“There is no single cause for suicide. Suicide most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition.
“Ninety percent of people who die by suicide have a mental disorder at the time of their deaths. There are biological and psychological treatments that can help address the underlying health issues that put people at risk for suicide.”
Growing up in a society that teaches the skills to cope before stress and depression become overwhelming is also important. I volunteer as a coach for the Let Me Run program in my town (I wrote about our spring season here). In addition to training the boys to run a 5k, this program is working to change the way boys see themselves which can lead to an inability to show emotions, eventually leading to stress, sickness, decreased learning potential or addiction (letmerun.org). Boys and men have higher rates of suicide than girls and women and are more likely to drop out of high school than their female classmates.
I struggle everyday with what I could have done to save my husband’s life. I try to combat that by making a difference going forward. Coaching Let Me Run and generally promoting running as a way to cope with stress, anxiety and depression are all a part of that. I also took a course in Mental Health First Aid so I could better recognize the warning signs and what should be done when encountering someone that may be suicidal (I wrote about that here). I raise money and donate to The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Maybe most importantly, I am telling my story, and will continue to do so, with the hope that it will save a life.
If you are in crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to anyone. All calls are confidential. http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
Mental Health First Aid – More information and to find a class near you: https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – To donate or take action: https://afsp.org
National Institute on Mental Health – statistics and warning signs: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/suicide/index.shtml