September, National Suicide Prevention Month, is an important chance for each of us to understand how suicidal thoughts can be identified, prevented, and treated. The resounding theme of National Suicide Prevention Month is the importance of providing support and compassion to those dealing with mental health conditions or life circumstances that may leave them vulnerable to suicidal thoughts and self-harm. By remaining vigilant and empathetic, we can all do more to help prevent suicide.
The Importance of National Suicide Prevention Month
In 2008, September was designated as National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month to acknowledge those who have been affected by suicide as well as promote proactive measures to decrease future occurrences.
Suicide is widely regarded as an uncomfortable topic—so much so that almost half of people who die by suicide deny suicidal ideation in the weeks and months leading up to their death, and many of those who have never attempted it but considered it will still deny it outright. This is why it’s so important to educate people on the prevalence of suicide and help those struggling feel less alone.
Suicides are complex issues that are influenced by many factors, including mental health disorders; intense feelings of sadness, shame, guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness; abuse; pregnancy or loss; sexual orientation; imprisonment; financial woes; and poor health/prognosis; amongst many others.
National Suicide Prevention Month is a time dedicated to spreading information, learning, and destigmatizing the discussion of suicide. The bottom line is, suicide prevention helps stop those who are in a desolate, hopeless mental state from making a decision that will forever affect them and their loved ones. It also acts as a straightforward way to destigmatize discussions surrounding self-harm and suicidal ideation. National Suicide Prevention Month can then serve as a way for those who are struggling with thoughts of self-harm to seek out the resources that are available to help them recover.
By reserving time to self-educate about risk factors and preventative measures, we can each prepare ourselves to respond to loved ones who may be considering ending their life or protect ourselves by knowing the warning signs and places for help.
Raising Mental Health Awareness
Some helpful steps you can take to raise mental health awareness and draw attention to National Suicide Prevention Month are:
- Sharing resources on social media
- Participating in community events and initiatives
- Printing information to display in gathering places like foyers or offices
- Informing those within your community, work environment, and friend circles
- Wearing a ribbon to show your support. Yellow is the color used for National Suicide Prevention Month, though some organizations use blue and purple as well.
If you’re in a position to promote September as National Suicide Prevention Month at your workplace, university, school, or other location, you could make more of an impact on someone’s life than you realize.
Who Is at Risk for Suicide?
As mentioned above, some mental health conditions increase the risk of one developing self-harming, suicidal thoughts, or suicidality. Depressive and mood disorders (or undiagnosed chronic depression or bipolar disorder) are some of the most common contributors to suicidal ideation. That’s because of the extreme emotional strain these conditions can place on an individual.
Beyond those suffering from anxiety and depression, other commonly at-risk groups include:
- Adults aged 44-54, who account for 80% of all suicide deaths in the U.S.
- Elderly men ages 85 or older
- People with a history of social isolation and physical violence
- Those with access to life-ending means, such as firearms, drugs, or toxins
- Youth—suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people ages 10-24
- LGBTQ+ youth, who are four times more likely to seriously consider a suicide attempt
- Veterans, who are 1 and a half times more likely to die by suicide than other Americans
People in these groups may not feel supported by other people on a variety of fronts, increasing their risk of suicide. They may also experience significant life transitions or experiences that create unique and extraordinarily difficult mental health challenges for them.
Signs and Symptoms of Suicidal Thoughts
It’s just as important to identify suicidal thoughts in others as it is yourself. Some warning signs that you or someone else is contemplating self-harm or suicide may include some combination of the following:
- Unexpected shifts in mood, often elation or sadness
- An intense state of anxiety
- Changes in behavior, routines, or a disrupted sleeping pattern
- Using drugs or alcohol recklessly or more frequently
- Giving away or selling belongings, or creating a will in an attempt to get their affairs in order
- Searching for a gun or substances (such as paracetamol/Tylenol) that could aid in a suicide attempt
- A recent history of depression, panic attacks, or antisocial behavior
- Psychomotor agitation, such as pacing, twisting hair, or clenching fists
- Writing or otherwise saying goodbye to friends and loved ones without specifying why
- A substantial loss of enjoyment from activities like socializing, exercise, social interaction, or sex
Perhaps the most obvious way to identify suicidal thoughts is if you or someone else expresses a desire or wish to die. Sometimes, we speak out of line; some of us may jokingly and morbidly state a desire to die or end our life when we’re frustrated or tired—but dark humor is not always so easily discernible from suicidal ideation.
What Treatment Options Are Available to Someone Experiencing Suicidal Ideation?
Even though suicidal ideation may create feelings of hopelessness and despair, people who are suffering from these thoughts have many treatment options. This means that reaching out for a mental health provider’s assistance is the first step of treatment. With this in mind, some of the most successful, tried-and-true therapeutic methods for treating suicidal ideation are:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy for suicide prevention (CBT-SP/ CT-SP)
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
- Attachment-based family therapy (ABFT)
- Collaborative management and assessment of suicidality (CAMS)
- Prolonged grief therapy (PGT)
Additionally, psychiatric providers can be of great assistance for more severe or persistent cases of suicidal ideation. Successful psychiatric treatment may involve the following medications:
- Antidepressants, including SSRIs
Both therapists and psychiatrists are fantastic resources and are the best way to find relief and remission from a state of suicidal ideation, but for immediate assistance, a crisis line like 988 or a support center is a better option. Knowing who to call could just save your life, or someone else’s.
Getting Involved: Spreading Hope and Awareness
There are many ways one can get involved in spreading hope and awareness—knowing what resources you can provide helps direct how you do it. Resources can range from time, energy, talents, skills, money, a platform, and so on.
You can donate time by attending a workshop that promotes self-preservation efforts. If you have the energy and ability to do so, consider participating in walks or runs that target suicide prevention awareness.
If you’re comfortable, you can also consider volunteering at a local crisis center. Many skills and talents are useful within local mental health centers, and they will often have programs to compliment what you’re good at. Finally, you can use your social media platform to promote 988 lifeline initiatives such as the hashtag #BeThe1To Promote National Suicide Prevention Month: Lifeline (988lifeline.org) or other helpful and informational posts provided by official sources.
Supporting Loved Ones During National Suicide Prevention Month
Knowing the warning signs of suicidal ideation is a great first step to supporting loved ones during National Suicide Prevention Month. Be aware of conversations with content involving a desire to die, feeling like a burden, or an inability to tolerate emotional or physical pain.
A person may be vulnerable to thoughts of ending their life if they experience intense feelings of emptiness, hopelessness, helplessness, guilt, shame, anxiousness, agitation and anger, or hostility.
How to Help Someone in Crisis
If you start seeing someone show behaviors that include withdrawing from friends and family, post-death plans such as giving items away, significant increase in drugs and alcohol usage, or an increase or decrease in eating and sleeping, then it might be helpful to incorporate the National Institute of Mental Health’s 5 Action Steps for Helping Someone in Emotional Pain:
- Ask. “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”
- Keep them safe. Reduce access to lethal items or places.
- Be there. Listen carefully and acknowledge their feelings without judgment.
- Help them connect. Call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
- Stay connected. Follow up with them and stay in touch after a crisis.
It can be difficult to support someone as they go through such a challenging time, so don’t forget to get help for yourself as well, such as speaking with a mental health professional about what you’re going through.
Promoting Suicide Prevention Strategies
One way to promote suicide prevention strategies is to share your story. If you’ve struggled with suicidal thoughts or feelings personally, feel comfortable opening up about it, and the setting is appropriate, share that with others and recognize that things can indeed improve. As hopelessness and loneliness are factors for suicidal ideation, by sharing your story, you can provide hope and understanding to people that are currently struggling.
You can also use platforms like social media to promote suicide prevention. If you do, consider using your resources to support initiatives that target:
- Stable housing
- Organizational policies that support fair and safe work environments
- Lower accessibility of lethal means
- Accessible mental health coverage
- System changes to include safer care for those at risk
- Educational programs that target resilience, parenting skills, and social emotional skills
- Training professionals to identify those at risk
- Substance abuse and dependency reduction
Each of these issues can individually contribute to mental health issues like suicidal ideation. There are also other resources you can highlight that provide crisis services to those that need them. The following are suicide and crisis lines available year-round:
- 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: Dial 988 *Veterans, press 1 when calling*
- Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741
- Veterans Crisis Text Line: Send a text message to 838255
- Vets4Warriors: Dial 1-855-838-8255
- SAMHSA Line for Treatment Referral (Substance Abuse): Dial 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
- The Trevor Project: Dial 1-866-488-7386
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger due to suicidal ideation or is in danger of harming themselves or others, 911 is a quick and reliable way to connect with first responders. It can be difficult to ask for help—but doing so could save your life.
How Do I Ask for Help? Accessing Professional Help
When it comes to mental health conditions, it’s not uncommon to seriously debate whether or not to seek out professional assistance, despite mental health services being a genuine form of medical treatment. You probably wouldn’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with your doctor for a source of chronic pain, yet the consistent emotional pain of suicidal ideation or self-harming behaviors can be just as damaging, but are often ignored.
Asking for help with mental health challenges and conditions that are causing emotional distress is important. Steps to consider when asking for help include:
- Being honest and open about the struggles you’re facing related to suicidal thoughts, actions, or self-harming behaviors.
- Creating enough time and space to reach out for assistance. You don’t want to feel rushed or pressured.
- Finding a mental health professional who can help and offer compassion and empathy. Thriveworks has therapists and psychiatrists who are available to meet with you, often within a week of scheduling.
- Remembering that feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and shame aren’t productive or realistic emotions to place on yourself.
There’s nothing wrong with seeking out mental health services—anyone can benefit from talking to a provider. It doesn’t mean that someone is weak, dependent, or incapable of solving their mental health conditions or concerns.
What scheduling your first psychiatry or therapy session means is that you are prioritizing your emotional well-being and placing your needs first so that you can remain independent, successful, and (most importantly) happy in your daily life.