Every 11 seconds someone dies by suicide.
For every completed suicide, there are approximately 25 attempts.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America.
Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death amongst 15-24 year olds.
1 in every 60 Americans is a survivor of suicide loss.
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month
This is a particularly important topic for us at Hartstein Psychological, as we work with so many young people who struggle with learning new skills to manage their suicidal thoughts and self-injurious behaviors. Unfortunately, the numbers don’t lie. This is a problem not just for us at HPS, but for all of us.
Much is written about the warning signs of a suicidal person. Unfortunately, even knowing the warning signs may not be enough. Many suicides, especially in young people, are impulsive and in response to increased stress and intense emotion dysregulation. Even knowing this, however, it is important to know all the potential signs so we can help as much as possible. Not only should we look for the “red flags,” we must pay attention to the “yellow flags,” the more subtle signs that could give us information that someone is struggling. The signs may appear in their behaviors, words, or their social media accounts. The key is to know what to look for and then to offer support.
Subtle signs (yellow flags):
- Changes in personality: There’s a significant shift in how someone acts. A previously amiable person may suddenly be more irritable and reactive, seemingly out of nowhere.
- Changes in sleep: Energetic individuals may suddenly be sleeping more. Those who used to sleep a lot may seem to have a lot of energy.
- Withdrawal/isolation: There may be reduced interest in social things. Maybe there is less interest in participating on a beloved team or lack of desire to go to parties or out with friends.
- Reckless behavior: There may be less concern about safety and more risk-taking. This could appear as drinking too much, driving fast or without a seatbelt, for example.
- Disinterest in personal appearance: Often, there is a decreased interest in one’s personal hygiene, including showering, brushing teeth, wearing clean clothes, eating well.
Serious signs (red flags):
- Significant loss of interest: Things that were once pleasurable are no longer so. There is a real disinterest in previously enjoyed activities. Giving away possessions: Offering up one’s possessions can be a sign of real trouble. It’s their way of preparing to die, by sharing parts of themselves with others.
- Speaking about death and dying: There is an increase in discussion of death and dying. There may be a lot of passive communication: “I wonder if life would be better without me in it” or something more specific, “I just want to die.” All of these must be taken seriously.
- Seeking methods: Someone may be looking for means by which to harm themselves, which is an obvious concern. Take note if you see someone researching suicide plans or hoarding pills, for example.
- Saying goodbye: For some, saying goodbye can be part of their plan. It may be subtle or more outward.
Knowing what to look for is only one piece of a much larger puzzle. It’s also important to consider how you might help. Despite it being a common belief, you do not put the idea of suicide into anyone’s mind. In fact, asking someone about it lets them know you are paying attention and often validates how they are feeling.
Let’s highlight how to start that conversation and what to do to show you are supportive.
- Start talking: It’s important to ask how someone is feeling and listen to the answer. Don’t be afraid to say: “Are you thinking about suicide or ending your life?” This is a very challenging question and one of the most important ones you can ask.
- Listen more: Take the time to listen to the answers. Be mindful not to jump to problem solve or convince the person that they shouldn’t feel the way they do. Show that you are concerned and focus on validating how they are doing. Reinforce their courage and bravery for being honest.
- Create a plan: Come up with a plan of action to maintain safety. This may include removing access to pills or sharp objects in the home temporarily.
- Access help: If there is a therapist involved, reach out to him/her. If there is not one, ask trusted resources for referrals. If you are unsure where to get help, and are concerned about safety, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. They will be able to help.
Suicide is preventable. It is a symptom of many different mental health issues, especially significant depression and/or anxiety. If we all can work together to build a community that promotes openness, acceptance and improved communication, we can work toward decreasing the numbers of deaths by suicide. Be open. Be welcoming. Be available. Don’t be afraid to ask. The power in that is immeasurable.