Author: Danita LeBlanc, LCSW- BACS
Every 40 seconds, a life is lost to suicide. The 800,000 suicide deaths that occur worldwide are more than deaths caused by homicide and war combined.
Suicide is a major public health issue. In the United States, 44,995 lives were lost to suicide in 2016. Louisiana reported 677 suicide deaths that same year. In the state, it is the 11th leading cause of death, the second for children between ages 10 and 14 and third for those between 15 and 34. Addressing suicide on a public health level, including access to care, is made more difficult by the stigma that accompanies suicide.
Although it sounds conflicting, people who are thinking about suicide usually also want to live. They share signs about living that their friends, family and neighbors see, hear, feel and sense They also share signs about ending their life, those signs are not always recognized as being about suicide. When these signs about wanting to die are presented, it is important to be willing to talk about suicide and ask if someone is suicidal. Neither of these actions put the thought of suicide in someone’s head, and they help break down the stigma surrounding suicide.
It’s especially important to be willing to talk about suicide as impulsiveness plays a role in some suicide attempts. While a person may have been thinking about it for a while, the decision to act can be fast.
We all have a part to play in preventing suicide. Here are some things you can do to help.
Learn the warning signs of suicide so you can recognize them.
- Threatening to hurt or kill oneself or talking about wanting to hurt or kill oneself.
- Looking for ways to kill oneself by seeking access to firearms, available pills or other means.
- Talking, writing about death or dying, or suicide when these actions are out of the ordinary for the person.
- Feeling hopeless.
- Feeling rage, uncontrolled anger or seeking revenge.
- Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking.
- Feeling trapped as if there is no way out.
- Increasing alcohol or drug use.
- Withdrawing from friends, family and society.
- Feeling anxious, agitated or unable to sleep or sleeping all the time.
- Experiencing dramatic mood changes.
- Seeing no reason for living or having no sense of purpose in life.
- Reaching out involves active listening and engaging with a person in a non-judgmental and supportive way – these skills can be taught to anyone.
- Reaching out to those who may be struggling or may have become disconnected from others and offering support can be a life-saving act.
- Reaching out involves linking people to relevant professional resources to ensure appropriate care and follow up for the person at risk. One resource is:
o National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
§ Veterans can dial “1” and be connected to a Veteran/Service personnel center; they also have the option to be called by the State VA Suicide Prevention Coordinators within 24 hours
§ Spanish speaking callers can dial “2” and be connected to a call center with Spanish speakers
§ Chat option: www.crisistext.org
§ Text option: 741741
Help make the environment safer if someone is thinking about suicide.
- Remove things that someone can easily use to hurt or kill themselves from the home (ex. unneeded or large amounts of medications, firearms) or make them more difficult to access (lock up firearms, separate bullets from firearm; lock up medications or keep only small quantities on hand).
- Stay with them or help them find someone in their circle of support who can be with them until help can be obtained.
Reaching out to people bereaved by someone else’s suicide death gives them the opportunity to talk about their loss, in their own time and on their own terms, which can also be a lifeline (postvention or prevention).
The news media also has a role.
Reporters and other media professionals should take special care when reporting on suicide.
More than 50 research studies worldwide have found that certain types of news coverage can increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals. The magnitude of the increase is related to the amount, duration and prominence of the news coverage. When the suicide method is explicitly described, copycat suicides may occur.
However, covering suicide carefully can change public misconceptions and correct myths, which can encourage those who are vulnerable or at risk to seek help.
A list of recommendations when covering suicide as a media professional can be found here.
Suicide is complex, and there are almost always multiple causes including psychiatric illnesses that may not have been recognized or treated but these illnesses are treatable and help is available.
If you need to talk to someone, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress and prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and offers best practices for professionals.
- SAMHSA Suicide Prevention Information
- Suicide Prevention Facts and Resources
- Suicide Prevention Wallet Card: Learn the Warning Signs
- Suicide Safe App