Social work is far reaching and incredibly diverse. The following words are just a snippet…
3 Steps to Suicide Prevention
I’m never going to pretend that this is an easy topic. In fact, it’s probably one of the most heartbreaking things I could talk about.
But it’s also one of the most critical.
Suicide is a tragedy.
Every. Single. Time.
Each life lost leaves a trail of what ifs, of grief, of healing.
Each life lost is a complex story. Devastation.
We can take steps to prevent yet another suicide from occurring. The following steps are really only three beginning ideas for how we as a community can move toward preventing yet another suicide. Each person’s story is unique and may involve factors not mentioned here.
But this can be a fantastic place to start:
1. Educate Yourself
Make sure you have accurate knowledge about suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. Misinformation is dangerous.
- Individuals considering suicide may still make plans for the future
Don’t assume that someone is fine just because they have plans for the near or distant future. Someone considering suicide can still have that vacation lined up. Or that new job. Or hey could be in the process of buying a house.
Future plans do not indicate that someone is not struggling.
- It’s not for attention
I want to completely crush this myth right now.
Suicidal ideation is not for attention. Suicidal ideation is a sign that someone needs help. It’s a sign that something isn’t right. It’s not a joke or a fleeting feeling.
So take every sign of suicidal ideation seriously. Because protecting someone from dying is a serious matter.
Also: Mental illness is just like physical illness. Something isn’t right…and oftentimes can be managed with appropriate help. Lifestyle. Therapy. Medication. What each person needs in order to be in a healthy place is unique. Which means the most effective treatment option does not determine the severity of a person’s mental health struggles.
- Know the Warning Signs:Talking about feeling shame
- Talking about death/dying/wanting to die
- Giving away possessions
- A drastic change in appearance
- An increase in substance use
- Isolation or withdrawal
- Change in habits (eating, sleeping, etc.)
- Reckless behavior
- Mood swings
For more signs, check out the National Institute of Mental Health here. The NIMH also has great resources for how to approach the topic of suicide.
2. Stay Connected
We can post suicide hotlines all day. We can point people in the direction of various services until the day’s end.
But nothing will ever replace human connection. You have a circle of humans with whom you are connected. These are your people. Love them. Listen to them. Spend quality time with them.
Pay attention and do not disregard what your loved ones communicate through actions or words. Do not brush them off or tell them “it’s not that bad” or “it’ll pass.”
I get it. This can be scary. Especially if the person is someone incredibly dear to you. No one wants to watch their loved ones struggle. It can be tempting to shrug it off, to deny what you are observing because it’s easier that way. But don’t.
Tell them that you hear them. That you love them. Offer to help them get professional help.
Really, really love them. Even when it’s hard.
I can’t mention that enough.
Research done on the connection between loneliness and suicide attempts has tended to show a strong correlation between loneliness and suicide. The less connected someone is to others, the more at risk for suicide they are. There’s a bunch of research on the topic, but you can start here.
So connect. Love.
3. Talk about it
Really. Talk about suicide. Have genuine conversations with your family and friends.
Know this: talking about suicide with someone doesn’t tend to increase the chances they will attempt suicide. In fact, it may open up an opportunity for them to get the help they need.
So never avoid bringing up suicide when you are genuinely concerned for someone. If you’ve stayed connected with them, you probably know how to approach the topic with them better than a stranger. You know them.
It’s scary. All of this. I know.
We all have a responsibility to look out for our loved ones. We all have the responsibility to be courageous. Even when it’s terrifying.
Mental health is critical. We are all broken. We are all capable of struggle. We need to love our neighbors and recognize when they need help. We need to listen. We need to learn how to take care of ourselves. And help others do the same.
We can run into serious trouble when we neglect our mental health or the mental health of our loved ones.
Sue Klebold, mother of Dylan (one of the Columbine shooters) and brain health advocate is one of the most admirable women I have come across. Years after the tragic events at Columbine, Ms. Klebold published some of what she has experienced as it relates to mental health. She has these words to share in her memoir A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy.
“As I learned all too well, brain health isn’t an “us versus them” situation. Everyone of us has the capacity to suffer in this way, and most of us- in some time in our lives-will. We teach our kids the importance of good dental care, proper nutrition, and financial responsibility. How many of us teach our children to monitor their own brain health, or know how to do it ourselves?” -Sue Klebold
Interested in learning more about Ms. Klebold’s thoughts? Here’s a Ted talk she did a few years ago: