Friday, September 19, 2014

September is Suicide Awareness and Prevention month - By Elizabeth Giammarco, PhD, LCPC, NCC

Contact numbers: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800 273 8255 (1-800 273-TALK; 911; Maine Crisis Hotline 1-888 568-1112; Ingraham 1-207 774-4357. Websites for help: Maine; National Institute for Mental Health; Suicide Prevention Resource Center; CDC; American Association of Suicidology Also in ME dial 211 for more information.

With the recent death of Robin Williams, the problem concerning suicide has again been raised. It seems that mental health issues do not gain attention until a celebrity succumbs to one of them. Although research into suicide and the conditions that surround it have been studied for some time, there are no definitive answers as to why some choose to end their lives. Suicide is a worldwide and complex problem with close to a million people dying from it every year. In recognition of the detrimental effects on victims, friends and family that suicide has, the World Health Organization (WHO) has designated September 10th of each year as a day for awareness, discussion, and prevention.

Suicide is an equal opportunity event. Although, there are some groups who are at more risk than others, it is found in most every culture, race, age group, and gender. How common is suicide in the United States? Conservatively speaking there are approximately 39,000 suicides per year or around 105 per day. The latter, however, does not reflect all cases because not all deaths from suicide are recorded a such. Gender wise, males have the highest rate of completing suicide at a rate that is four times greater than that of females. Males tend to use more lethal ways such as firearms than females do. Females, however, attempt suicide more than males and usually use poisons or drugs. 

Being able to know some of the warning signs, however, may help those who are close to someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts. Some red flags that may indicate a person needs help are changes in behavior such as going from a mood that is high to low or vice versa or having a flat mood with little expression. Also talking about leaving or wanting to die can be a warning sign and should be taken seriously. Some individuals give away items as if they were going to move or leave on vacation while others may visit or call people who they haven’t seen for some time. Still there are those who don’t say anything but tend to close themselves up and disengage from contact. Being able to get individuals who are experiencing risky behavior to a crisis center or a health care provider is crucial. Individuals who are deeply depressed and talk about suicide may need hospitalization for a brief period of time. Others who need medication also might need talk therapy or group therapy to help them as well. 

White middle-age males and those over the age of 65 have the highest incidence of suicide of all groups in the U.S. For the age group between 15 and 29 it is the second leading cause of death according to the CDC (some sources place it as third). Young children, middle school youngsters, and teenagers are also at risk for suicidal thoughts, attempts, and completion. Bullying is a major contributor for middle school students. There are racial as well as cultural disparities for suicidal behavior with Native Americans and Alaskan Natives having suicide as the second cause of death for ages between 15 and 34. 

Some risk factors that can lead to suicide are alcohol or substance use, grief, previous attempts, depression and or other mental health issues. Also, a history of family suicide, physical pain and or health issues, or the feeling of being estranged or alone can predispose a person to suicide. Individuals who attempt or commit suicide are usually in deep psychological or physical pain or a combination of both. These are some but not all of the risk factors that can lead a person to take his/her life. Suicide is a subjective event – it comes from within the person, which makes it more difficult to assess from an observable perspective. 

One way to know for sure whether an individual is contemplating suicide is to ask him or her straight out if that is the intention. Opening up a dialogue is a way to bring the fears, anxieties, and what the individual is going through out in the open. In some case where one may feel that he or she is all alone or not understood, being able to talk about it with unconditional acceptance by the listener may lessen the feeling of total despair. Children as well as adults need to be taken seriously when they speak about dying or committing suicide. 

Suicide affects families, friends, co-workers and the community at large. Almost a half million people are seen for suicide attempts each year in emergency rooms. However, the positive news is that many of those who are seen get the help that is needed and go forward to live a full life. A good support system that includes family, friends, and community is essential for understanding and preventing suicide. 

As kids most of us were taught to stop, look, and listen when we approached a railroad crossing. I think this is excellent advice when it comes to individuals who are at risk for those who around them to stop and take the time to look and to listen to what is being said by them and what is not. Sometimes silence speaks louder than words. However, that being said, I also believe that as a community we need open discussions, education, empathy, research, and some TLC that might go a long way to help those who are at risk.

Editor’s note: Our intent in publishing this article is to educate the community on the prevalence and seriousness of suicide. One person taking their own life is too many. Look for signs and talk to those who may be in crisis.

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