Thursday, September 10, 2009

Help Prevent Suicide

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, with this year’s theme being “Suicide Prevention in Different Cultures.” The purpose behind the day is to help educate about facts related to suicide, decrease the stigma associated with the topic, and most importantly, raise awareness that suicide is preventable (IASP, 2009).

Few words carry as much weight as the term “suicide”, which is often almost afraid to be uttered for fear that it may affect someone we know. However, as with similar fears, suicide is an issue that is best addressed directly in a community environment to decrease stigma, clarify misperceptions, and equip people to help friends seek support.

Suicide prevention research views suicide as a public health issue, as its impact is most often felt on a community level. Studies suggest that for every suicide committed, at least 6 people are directly impacted, and more than that indirectly (National Center for Health Statistics, 2006). Suicide is also the second leading cause of death among college students in the U.S., the third leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 15-24, and the 11th cause of death overall (National Center for Health Statistics, 2006). In 2006, there were 33,000 suicides in the U.S., which averages out to about one suicide every 16 minutes. Add to those statistics the fact that untreated depression is considered one of the leading contributing causes of suicide. In many cases, with the ability to identify the risk factors and with the proper intervention, suicide can be prevented.

There are a number of warning signs that may be indicators of distress and present an opportunity to reach out and offer help:

Expressed hopelessness: Hopelessness is one of the key predictors of suicidality. A sense of hopelessness indicates that a person is unable to see past this particular point, and feels that they no longer have options.

Untreated depressive symptoms: Depressed mood, lack of motivation, low self-esteem, decreased pleasure in once enjoyable activities, and feelings of worthlessness are all symptoms of depression.

Increased alcohol and/or substance use: An increase in the use of substances suggests that someone is having increased difficulty in coping with their current challenges and experiences.

Increased isolation and/or withdrawal: An individual may begin to pull back from friends and/or loved ones. This increase in isolation will often contribute to the perception and sense of hopelessness.

Increase in impulsive behaviors: Feeling and behaving as if they have “nothing to lose” may be an indicator of suicidal ideation.

There are ways in which you can offer assistance to someone who you are concerned may be considering suicide:

Don’t be afraid to ask the question: If you are concerned that someone may be considering suicide, it is okay to ask the question directly. If you aren’t comfortable asking the question, share your concerns with someone who may be more comfortable with asking it. Asking the question will often bring relief to an individual who may be contemplating suicide and open up communication. The goal is to instill hope, which helps prevent suicide.

Listen: Take the time to listen more than talk. Make sure that when you ask the question, you have the time to sit and listen non-judgmentally. Express your concerns and convey realistic hope that the problem can be solved, with the goal of encouraging them to seek support.

Don’t keep it a secret: If someone shares with you that they are considering suicide, share it with someone who can get them help or get them to help—a parent, a teacher, a counselor.

Here are two websites to check out for more information:

International Association for Suicide Prevention

National Vital Statistics Reports on the National Center for Health Statistics

Suicide prevention is a community concern. Education, involvement, and the simple act of caring can instill hope and help to decrease this form of death.

Editor's Note: Dr. Nyaka Niilampti is a psychologist at Southeast Psych in Charlotte. She has a Ph.D. from Temple University, a master's in sports psychology from UNC-Chapel Hill, and a bachelor's degree from Princeton. Before coming to Southeast Psych, she has worked in university counseling centers, secondary schools, and community mental health centers.