Suicidal thoughts are non-discriminatory; they can affect anyone regardless of race, gender, or social background. Unfortunately, age is sometimes a factor. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that suicide ranks third as the leading cause of death among young people. Due to the stigma surrounding suicide, many of those at risk for suicidal thoughts, feelings and actions, do not seek help. Young people – those especially at risk – are often too afraid to seek help, or do not realize that there is help available to them.
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. This is an excellent time to begin the conversation on suicide prevention.
Know The Warning Signs
If your job involves youth, knowing the warning signs of suicide is likely crucial knowledge. Depending on the individual, these red flags may manifest in different ways. The National Alliance on Mental Illness lists the warning signs as:
- Threats or comments about killing oneself
- Increased alcohol or drug abuse
- Aggressive behavior
- Social withdrawal from friends, family, or the community
- Dramatic mood swings
- Talking, writing, or thinking about death
- Impulsive behavior
Though the young are most vulnerable to suicide, adults can also be at risk. Paying attention to behavioral changes in those you love is an important part of suicide prevention.
Methods For Suicide Prevention
If you think someone is in danger of committing suicide, there are some early steps that you can take:
- Remove any items that an individual may use to attempt suicide.
- Ask simple and direct questions. For example, “can I help you call your psychiatrist?” is more productive than “you should call your therapist.” Avoid phrasing that indicates annoyance or frustration.
- Talk openly about suicide, but debate its morality.
- Don’t argue or raise your voice.
These are a few cautions to take, but discussing the matter with a professional should be done as soon as possible.
Where To Go For Help
Listen actively to anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts—that alone can help with prevention. Reflection of feelings and summarizing thoughts to a willing ear can have a tremendous impact. It can help validate anyone who has suicidal tendencies. For additional help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). Trained counselors will speak with concerned friends as well as those experiencing suicidal thoughts. They are available 24/7. If a threat of suicide seems imminent, call 911 immediately.
The Stigmafree Pledge
There is currently a movement to reconsider how we culturally think of suicide. One group involved in this crusade created the Stigmafree Pledge. The organization promotes acceptance in individuals with suicidal tendencies, and it is challenging the social stereotypes associated with people experiencing suicidal thoughts. The three steps of the pledge are:
- Educate yourself and others. Educate others about mental health issues, and reject stigmatizing stereotypes.
- See the person and not the illness. Treating sufferers with empathy, and see them as more than just symptoms.
- Take action on mental health issues. Push for better legislation. Support suicide awareness initiatives.
As with many mental conditions, awareness and understanding is key. Fostering an open discussion of suicide during this month of prevention can go a long way toward helping those who need it.
Dr. Bhalavat is Board Certified in General Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine, and provides inpatient evaluation and consultation services at the University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, University of Maryland Harford Memorial Hospital, Maryland Recovery Partners, and Citizens Care & Rehabilitation Center. Dr. Bhalavat’s background includes treatment of depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia spectrum disorders, bipolar disorder, substance abuse and dementia.