Suicide is even scarier when it is happening close to home. Unfortunately, it’s the 3rd leading cause of death in adolescents and the 2nd for college aged students. National surveys indicate that 17% of high school students admit to thinking about suicide and almost 8% acknowledge actually making an attempt.
According to the Center for Disease Control and prevention, “Suicide, by definition, is fatal and is a problem throughout the life span. In 2013, suicide was the second leading cause of death among persons aged 15-24 years, the second among persons aged 25-34 years, the fourth among person aged 35-54 years, the eighth among persons aged 55-64 years, the seventeenth among persons 65 years and older, and the tenth leading cause of death across all ages.”
How do we as parents, friends, family, and community deal with the topic of suicide?
There is a myth that by talking about suicide, you can plant the idea in a person’s mind. The truth is that directly asking “Are you thinking of suicide?” is a critical part of prevention.
First, ask the question directly in a calm and supportive manner. If you have concerns that a loved one is thinking of suicide, ask. Do not allow fear to stop you from asking this question.
Second, timing is important. Know what you will say and how you will say it and plan for a best time to say it. Plan for a time when you and the other person are not rushed to be somewhere else. Plan when you can give them your full attention.
Third, if you have direct concerns about someone based on changes in their behaviors, know your audience. Remember that side by side conversations (driving in a car or walking together) may offer a non-threatening way to talk about an emotional topic.
Furthermore, plan ahead if you do not feel you can start the conversation casually. Have a way to begin the conversation that does not put all the emphasis on the person you are talking with.
Be honest and acknowledge it is a difficult subject to talk about. By being vulnerable, you allow them an opportunity to also express their own discomfort. Remember to have the conversation at a time where emotions are calm. Most importantly normalize and be able to share that it is not unusual for people to have passing thoughts of suicide. Reassure them that this would not be anything to be embarrassed about and try to normalize the topic.
If you are able to start the conversation, be direct and ask the questions such as “Is suicide something that any of your friends talk about?” “Have you ever thought about suicide?” “Have your friends ever talked to you about suicide?”
Listen to what the person has to say.
Give space, bite your tongue and let them talk. You’ve asked the questions, so simply consider their responses. If you hear something that worries you, be honest about that too. “What you’re telling me has really gotten my attention and I need to think about it some more. Let’s talk about this again, okay?”
Find a way to manage your emotions that can be fueled by fear. Remember that suicide can be an attempt to solve a problem that seems impossible to solve in another way. When people are in highly emotional states, their ability to think straight decreases significantly. They may not even understand why they are thinking or feeling what they are feeling. In some cases, they may not truly have the energy to get the help they need. It is crucial you are not judgmental. Get more information about the problem that created the suicidal thoughts. Be supportive, and again, avoid judgment. Be aware of your tone, speak soft and listen a lot. The more you allow them to share their situation, it will increase their trust in you and their sense that they are not alone.
Here are some possible warning signs:
♦ Emotions demonstrated that seem different from the past, such as hopelessness, fear of losing control, helplessness, worthlessness, feeling anxious, worried or angry often, or emotional outbursts.
♦ Behaviors that are different from usual. These may include engaging in high-risk behavior, carelessness, talking more about death or suicide, withdrawing from activities or sports, using alcohol or drugs, isolating and avoiding.
♦ Changes in personality, behavior, eating habits, sleeping patterns, loss of interest, or sudden improvement after a period of being down or withdrawn.
♦ Makes comments that “Life doesn’t seem worth it.” “I wish I were dead.” “Nobody would care if I died.” “You’d be better off without me.”
♦ Suddenly gives prized items away. Possibly stashing items like pills or studying ways to complete suicide. Possible suicide attempts or cutting.
Situations that can trigger suicidal behaviors:
- Events such as loss or death.
- Experiencing humiliations, rejections, or failures.
- Getting in trouble at home, in school or with the law.
- A break-up.
- Unavoidable changes for which a person feels scared or unprepared.
If you notice any of these things in people who have a history of impulsivity, have previous suicide attempts or threats, consult with a mental health professional.
Remember suicide is the solution thought of to deal with a problem the individual does not see another way of managing. Managing suicidal thoughts includes increasing skills to manage emotional distress and painful thoughts. Dialectical Behavior Therapy offers in the moment interventions that can help.
Useful interventions and coping tools: http://www.therapistaid.com/therapy-guide/cbt-for-anxiety
Resources used in the creation of this article:https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/Suicide-DataSheet-a.pdf
With Compassion and Best Wishes,