Let’s Talk About Suicide Prevention
FROM CARRIE KUBACKI, HEALTH & WELLNESS EDUCATOR, UW-MADISON EXTENSION
Discussing suicide is likely to make people feel uncomfortable, anxious or scared. The thought of someone wanting to end their own life may be more than we want to even consider. However, suicide is a very real problem in our families and communities that must be addressed openly and honestly. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that suicide is the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10-34 and that suicide rates have increased 31% since 2001.
The initial step to having a real discussion about suicide prevention is to dispel some myths surrounding suicide. First, taking one’s own life is NOT the act of someone who is “crazy.” It is a response to an emotional crisis that someone is experiencing that can be prevented. Second, talking about suicide will NOT put the idea into someone’s head. Openly discussing mental health and suicide will allow a person to feel safe and supported enough to disclose their thoughts and experiences. With the acknowledgment that someone is thinking about or planning suicide, we can immediately get that person appropriate help to save a life.
The second step to talking about suicide with someone with whom we are concerned is to recognize some of the warning signs. The more of the following clues we see in a person, the higher the risk and more immediate our response needs to be.
- Talking about death and/or suicide—either directly or indirectly
- “I’m going to kill myself.” “I wish I were dead.”
- Having symptoms or being diagnosed with an underlying mental health condition, like depression
- Increased risk-taking and impulsive behaviors without a concern for safety
- Significant changes in mood and personality—such as becoming more aggressive or withdrawn
- Preoccupation with death or suicide in the form of writing, drawing or listening to music
- Increased alcohol or other drug use
- Having had a recent major crisis, such as losing a job or relationship, death of a loved one
- Self-harm behaviors, such as cutting one’s self
- Getting the means to make an attempt: accessing a firearm or stockpiling pills
- Giving away valuable possessions or making a last will and testament
- Statements like, “Thank you for always being my friend. You won’t have to worry about me anymore.”
The next step in discussing suicide with someone with whom we are concerned is to overcome our fear and directly ask the question, “Are you thinking about killing yourself? I’m concerned about you.” Using this nonjudgmental approach creates an open and supportive space for someone in crisis to talk freely about their concerns.
Finally, reach out for immediate help for the individual. If someone’s life is in danger, call 9-1-1 or take them to your local emergency room. If they are not in immediate crisis, help them to contact their primary health care provider or mental health care professional. Offer other types of crisis supports as well, such as the toll free number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: English 1-800-273-8255 or Spanish 1-888-628-9454. Together, we can provide hope and save a life.