Written by: Katie Besch, LPCC, behavioral health specialist at Children’s Minnesota.
Did you know, suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States? And, in 2021, 48,183 Americans died by suicide, and there were 1.7 million suicide attempts accounted for, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
These numbers are why suicide prevention is something that needs to be talked about more. If we can normalize the conversation around suicide, we might be able to help more individuals that are experiencing these thoughts.
Sadly, many Americans will experience thoughts of suicide at some point in their life. It’s important to know that there is no shame in having these thoughts – many people do, but it is what you do about them that makes the difference. Please reach out for support from a friend, family member or professional if you are experiencing thoughts of suicide.
Raising awareness about helping prevent suicide
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month where we raise awareness about how to help prevent suicide. Knowing this information will help us better support ourselves, our loved ones, our communities, and most importantly save lives! One of the first ways we can stop suicide before it happens is by knowing the warning signs.
The warning signs for suicide can include:
- Talking about being a burden.
- Being isolated.
- Increased anxiety.
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
- Increased substance use.
- Looking for a way to access lethal means.
- Increased anger or rage.
- Extreme mood swings.
- Expressing hopelessness.
- Sleeping too little or too much.
- Talking or posting about wanting to die.
- Making plans for suicide.
Helping reduce the risk of suicide
There are ways that we can reduce our risk or our loved one’s risk of suicide. One way we can protect ourselves is by integrating these protective factors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) into our lives. If you are unsure of how you can do this, ask a professional counselor to help you.
Suicide protective factors include:
- Effective coping and problem-solving skills.
- Reasons for living (family, friends, pets, etc.).
- Sense of cultural identity.
- Support from partners, friends or family.
- Feeling connected to others.
- Feeling connected to school, community or social institutions.
- Availability of high quality physical and behavioral health care.
- Reduced access to lethal means.
- Cultural and religious or moral objections to suicide.
ACE suicide prevention model
It is important to know that people can be living with suicidal thoughts without others being aware. If suicidal thoughts go on for a prolonged period or a significant stressor occurs, it can cause suicidal thoughts to be immediate and life threatening. If you suspect that someone is experiencing a crisis or is hurting, you can use the ACE suicide prevention model.
- Ask: Ask, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” Although it may feel awkward, research shows that people having thoughts of suicide feel relief when someone asks them in a caring way.
- Care: Show you care. The context of caring makes it a lot easier to ask the hard questions about suicide. By actively listening and engaging, without judgment, you are showing that you care – this might just be enough to help the person feel relief and that they are not alone.
- Escort: When someone acknowledges that they are feeling suicidal or hopeless, care enough to connect them to the nearest helping resource. Do not leave them alone! If possible, separate them from methods of harm.
Local suicide resources
Here are some immediate resources to utilize in our area:
- Take the person to the nearest emergency room, where they will receive a full suicide assessment and receive needed care. If the person is hesitant to receive emergency health care, call 911.
- Call or text 9-8-8, or call 1-800-273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and follow their guidance. You can also visit their website for further information.
- If the person you know has a mental health professional that they see, help them schedule an urgent appointment. If they do not have an existing connection with a mental health professional, help them make an urgent appointment with their family physician.
I hope these resources can help you or those around you that may be hurting or struggling. As a professional counselor, I have worked with many individuals that have experienced suicidal thoughts and there are treatments that can help. It is important to know that no one must suffer alone.