On suicide: It’s no longer an unspeakable word
September is National Suicide Prevention Month. (Screenshot: NH988.com)
Depending upon where you look, suicide is either the second or third leading cause of death in America. Suicide is highest among white males, followed by Native Americans, followed by Black males. Overall, suicide is the 12th leading cause of death in the United States, with a suicide occurring about every 11.5 minutes. Suicide is the second leading cause of death globally for people 15-24 years old.
I just used the word “suicide” five times in the above four sentences. How did that feel to you? Not so bad, I suspect. You can do it, too: Talking about suicide with anyone, regardless of their age, is OK. And it’s even more OK if you think they may be considering suicide.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month, so you’ll hear more about this in the media. Suicide is preventable, and I hope what you learn in September will inspire you to talk about suicide in terms that are candid, positive, and helpful to anyone in the throes of a crisis. Aside from awareness, what’s your role? Here are five steps to take toward prevention:
- Ask the question, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” This will not increase the risk of suicide. Other good questions are “How do you hurt?” and “How can I help?” (And if you are considering suicide, reach out to a friend and let them know, with these five steps in hand for them help you.)
- Be there. Be present. Stay with the person. Being there for someone increases their connectedness and limits their isolation. These have been shown to be protective factors in decreasing suicide risk.
- Keep them safe. Find out more. Does the person have a plan to kill themself? What is that plan? Have they attempted suicide before? Have they experimented with it? What is their timing? Remove lethal weapons or objects to distance them from their chosen method.
- Help them connect. Call a crisis line so they can speak with a trained crisis clinician. In New Hampshire, call or text the N.H. Rapid Response Access Point at 833-710-6477, or chat online at NH988.com. This will ensure a local mobile crisis in-person response when needed. In Vermont, text “VT” to 741741 or call the national 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Nationally, call 988.
- Follow up. After the fact, call, text, visit, email, find them on social media and ask how they’re doing. Leave a message if they don’t answer the phone. Tell them you care. Supportive, ongoing contact is an important part of suicide prevention.
How about ways to prevent suicide from creeping into your psyche? Maintain meaningful social connections. Make plans to do something with a friend. Start a hobby like woodworking, sewing, painting, or whatever you enjoy. If you can do it with others, even better. Exercise. Any kind of exercise will do, even if it’s sitting in a chair and rotating your arms. Walking is a wonderful and underrated exercise, whether you do it indoors or out. Practice mindfulness or meditation. Become a mentor. Volunteer. Getting active in your community will help you develop relationships with others – which brings us back to the beginning of maintaining meaningful social connections. And, above all, ask for help whenever you need it.
A friend of mine suggested that there must be some evolutionary reason for suicide. I’m not so sure there is, but I’m always willing to listen and consider. He tells me suicide is about ending suffering. I won’t disagree, but I’ll counter because I know there are many ways to end suffering. Helping a person believe other options exist is the goal. That there are people who love them. That there are things they enjoy doing. That their cat or dog or pet rabbit needs them. That a tree is beautiful and worth visiting in the autumn when its colors are ablaze. That a breeze feels nice on their cheek. That any child would appreciate their smile today and tomorrow. That living is a choice that can be made.
Talk openly about suicide. That’s the place to start. Then, let’s offer up choices. After all, isn’t that what life is all about?
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