Many Arkansans view suicide as something to whisper about behind closed doors, or something to hide altogether. Yet 41,000 individuals die every year by suicide, and it is the 10th leading cause of death among adults in the U.S. and the 2nd leading cause of death among people ages 10-24.
And those numbers are increasing at an alarming rate.
In 2016, the New York Times reported that suicide in the United States has reached a 30-year high, increasing in every age group except older adults.
We need to do more than talk about suicide. We need to face it head on, learn how to recognize the warning signs and get help for ourselves or others. September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and it’s a good time to promote suicide education and awareness and initiate conversations about suicide and related topics. Read on for key information on suicide risk, warning signs, prevention and resources.
Remember, if you or someone you know is in danger, call 911 immediately.
SUICIDE RISK FACTORS
Research has found that about 90 percent of individuals who die by suicide experience mental illness. Recognizing and addressing mental illness – which often carries its own social stigma that must be overcome – is of critical importance. Other suicide risk factors include:
- A family history of suicide
- Substance abuse; drugs and alcohol can result in mental highs and lows that exacerbate suicidal thoughts
- Intoxication; more than one in three people who die from suicide are found to be currently under the influence
- Access to firearms
- A serious or chronic medical illness
- Gender; although more women than men attempt suicide, men are four times more likely to die by suicide
- A history of trauma or abuse
- Prolonged stress
- Age; people under age 24 or above age 65 are at a higher risk for suicide
- A recent tragedy or loss
- Agitation and sleep deprivation
SUICIDE WARNING SIGNS
Although Arkansans considering suicide might take extensive measures to hide it from others, there are some behaviors that should be considered red flags. This list is not exhaustive – any unusual or out-of-character behavior could be a sign that a person needs help. Some warning signs include:
- Threats or comments about suicide; these can begin as seemingly harmless thoughts like “I wish I wasn’t here” but can become more overt and dangerous
- Increased alcohol and drug use
- Aggressive behavior
- Social withdrawal from friends, family and the community
- Dramatic mood swings
- Talking, writing or thinking about death
- Impulsive or reckless behavior
It can be frightening and intimidating when a loved one reveals or shows signs of suicidal thoughts. However, not taking thoughts of suicide seriously can have a devastating outcome. If you think your friend or family member will hurt herself or someone else, call 911 immediately. Other recommendations to prevent self-harm include:
- Remove means such as guns, knives or stockpiled pills
- Calmly ask simple and direct questions, such as “Can I help you call your psychiatrist?” rather than, “Would you rather I call your psychiatrist, your therapist or your case manager?”
- Talk openly and honestly about suicide. Don’t be afraid to ask questions such as “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” or “Do you have a plan for how you would kill yourself?”
- If there are multiple people, have one person speak at a time
- Ask what you can do to help
- Don’t argue, threaten or raise your voice
- Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong
- If your loved one asks for something, provide it as long as the request is safe and reasonable
- If you are nervous, try not to fidget or pace
- If your loved one is having hallucinations or delusions, be gentle and sympathetic, but do not get in an argument about whether the delusions or hallucinations are real
SUICIDE CRISIS RESOURCES
Methodist Family Health is staffed with experienced mental health professionals that can help you address a wide variety of concerns. We have offices and resources throughout the state, all part of a well-established continuum of care. If you have concerns about a loved one, or are experiencing suicidal thoughts yourself, please reach out right away to one of the following:
- If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call 911 immediately.
- If you are in crisis or are experiencing difficult or suicidal thoughts, call us any time, day or night, at 501.803.3388. Or, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255). They have trained counselors available 24/7 to speak with either you or your loved one.
- If you’re uncomfortable talking on the phone, you can also text NAMI to 741-741 to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor on the Crisis Text Line.
Content revised from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Learn more at nami.org