Making connections, saving lives: Experts share insights into understanding, preventing suicide

U.S. & World

A sign for a suicide prevention hotline is displayed on the pedestrian walkway of the George Washington Bridge in New York, Monday, Aug. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

(KTAL/KMSS) – September is National Suicide Awareness Month and as we approach World Suicide Prevention Day on Friday, the conversation on what we can do to help is pulled into focus.

Suicide leaves survivors with a profound sense of loss and grief, combined with the social stigma that many will not discuss. But crisis experts like Brian Stefan say the opposite of suicide is connection. In an interview on the Into the Dawn podcast with Ashley Rivard, he details some of his experience working as part of a crisis response team and crisis counselor for a suicide hotline.

“There’s so much stigma and there’s so much misunderstanding around suicide,” Stefan says. “And so, being disconnected from family, being disconnected from loved ones, being disconnected from our dreams or our goals, being disconnected from ourselves are all examples of risk factors that present as hopelessness or helplessness.”

In this Aug. 10, 2021, photo mental health advocate Kevin Berthia, who has survived his own suicide attempts, wears wrists bands with the name of his mental health foundation, in Sacramento, Calif. Berthia has turned his experience, including a suicide attempt on the Golden Gate Bridge, into advocacy for other people in crisis. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says that while there are risk factors and warning signs that increase the likelihood of an attempt, there’s no single cause for suicide. Depression is a common factor, but environmental factors, chronic illness, historical factors, and lack of protective factors can all affect the possibility.

Stefan notes it’s important to keep in mind that everyone feels hopeless sometimes and that a sense of understanding and lack of judgment is the best place to start a conversation with someone you think may be struggling. A list of things to look for that the AFSP offers includes:

Risk factors

Risk factors are characteristics or conditions that increase the chance that a person may try to take their life.

Health

  • Mental health conditions
    • Depression
    • Substance use problems
    • Bipolar disorder
    • Schizophrenia
    • Personality traits of aggression, mood changes and poor relationships
    • Conduct disorder
    • Anxiety disorders
  • Serious physical health conditions including pain
  • Traumatic brain injury

Environmental

  • Access to lethal means including firearms and drugs
  • Prolonged stress, such as harassment, bullying, relationship problems or unemployment
  • Stressful life events, like rejection, divorce, financial crisis, other life transitions or loss
  • Exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of suicide

Historical

  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Family history of suicide
  • Childhood abuse, neglect or trauma

Protective Factors

  • Access to mental health care, and being proactive about mental health
  • Feeling connected to family and community support
  • Problem-solving and coping skills
  • Limited access to lethal means
  • Cultural and religious beliefs that encourage connecting and help-seeking, discourage suicidal behavior, or create a strong sense of purpose or self-esteem

Warning signs

Something to look out for when concerned that a person may be suicidal is a change in behavior or the presence of entirely new behaviors. This is of sharpest concern if the new or changed behavior is related to a painful event, loss, or change. Most people who take their lives exhibit one or more warning signs, either through what they say or what they do.

If a person talks about:

  • Killing themselves
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Having no reason to live
  • Being a burden to others
  • Feeling trapped
  • Unbearable pain

Behaviors that may signal risk, especially if related to a painful event, loss or change:

  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Looking for a way to end their lives, such as searching online for methods
  • Withdrawing from activities
  • Isolating from family and friends
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Aggression
  • Fatigue

People who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of interest
  • Irritability
  • Humiliation/Shame
  • Agitation/Anger
  • Relief/Sudden Improvement
In this Aug. 3, 2021 photo a man jogs past a sign about crisis counseling on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. In recent years, officials who oversee so-called suicide hotspots like San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and the George Washington Bridge, which spans New York City and New Jersey, have worked to install prevention or deterrent systems. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Although, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide is the second leading cause of death in the US between the ages of 10-34, and the fourth among people ages 35-44, it is still something that many people find difficult to talk about. In June of 2021, the Center for Fatality Review and Prevention released recommendations based on review teams from 39 states that looked at 8,196 child or youth suicides between 2004 to 2007.

The review states that approximately one in 15 high school students report attempting suicide each year. Many groups who are at higher risk are “those involved in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender; American Indian/Alaska Native; and military service members”. The Department of Defense Suicide Prevention Office quarterly report showed a 25% increase in suicides from Oct.1 to Dec. 30, 2020 from the previous year.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline offers help for people struggling with how to act or help someone they love who is thinking about suicide. People having a crisis can feel a lack of control or a sense of hopelessness. The steps they suggest when talking about suicide are:

  • Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide.
  • Be willing to listen. Allow expressions of feelings. Accept the feelings.
  • Be non-judgmental. Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether feelings are good or bad. Don’t lecture on the value of life.
  • Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.
  • Don’t dare him or her to do it.
  • Don’t act shocked. This will put distance between you.
  • Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Seek support.
  • Offer hope that alternatives are available but do not offer glib reassurance.
  • Take action. Remove means, like weapons or pills.
  • Get help from people or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.

If you want to get involved in local outreach and prevention efforts you can contact the Area Director of the Louisiana and Mississippi Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Meghan Goldbeck, at 504-220-6100 or mgoldbeck@afsp.org. To help our local veterans contact The Every Warrior Project at 1-318-230-3940 or yourfamily@everywarrior.org.

There are many different resources available if you or someone you know is in crisis. Please reach out.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Teen Line Lifeline: 310-855-4673 (Speak to peers about thoughts of suicide)

The Trevor Project 1-866-488-7386 (LGBTQ community under 25 struggling)

Your Life Your Voice 1-800-448-3000 (Coping skills for teens that are struggling)

Crisis Text Line
Text TALK to 741-741 to text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free, 24/7

Veterans Crisis Line
Send a text to 838255

Vets4Warriors 1-855-838-8255

SAMHSA Treatment Referral Hotline (Substance Abuse)
1-800-662-HELP (4357)

RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline
1-800-656-HOPE (4673)

National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline
1-866-331-9474

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