National Suicide Prevention Month: You Can Be the One
By Melissa Tooles, Director of Consulting
“Place your hand over your heart, can you feel it? That is called purpose. You’re alive for a reason so don’t ever give up.”- Unknown
As the new school year unfolds, students may be filled with excitement, anxiety, or questions about the unknown. The above quote was shared in an article promoting suicide prevention and awareness and it is an excellent reminder of the importance of maintaining a keen eye on students as they return to school. In the United States, September is National Suicide Prevention Month, which is dedicated to raising awareness, infusing hope to those hurting, and destigmatizing the shame often associated with those living with the challenges of suicidal ideation.
While the national numbers of individuals living with suicidal ideation are changing day by day, recent school closures, social isolation, and national traumatic events may increase these cases beyond the uptick seen in 2018. According to the CDC and NIMH, suicide rates have increased 35% between 1999–2018. During the pandemic, the most recent numbers are even more alarming. In 2020, there was a 31% increase in mental health-related emergency department visits from adolescents aged 12–17 compared to similar visits in 2019. The CDC reported suspected suicide attempt emergency department visits from February 21-March 20, 2021:
- Girls ages 12–17 years of age increased 50.6%
- Males ages 12–17 years of age increased 3.7%.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “research has found that 46% of people who die by suicide had a known mental health condition.” Additional challenges that may put a person at risk of suicide include:
- A mental health diagnosis such as depression
- A family history of suicide
- Substance use
- Access to firearms
- A severe or chronic medical illness
- Gender (Although more women than men attempt suicide, men are nearly 4x more likely to die by suicide)
- Age, sex, orientation
- A history of trauma or abuse
- Prolonged stress
- A recent tragedy or loss
- Stigma with seeking help or cultural barriers
A Few Warning Signs to Act On
The following may be warning signs of suicide:
- Increased alcohol and drug use
- Aggressive behavior
- Withdrawal from friends, family, and community
- Dramatic mood swings
- Impulsive or reckless behavior
- Self-harming statements such as — “I want to kill myself,”; “I don’t belong here anymore,”; “I just don’t/can’t do this anymore.”
How Can You Help?
ASK: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” It’s not an easy question, but studies show that asking at-risk individuals if they are suicidal, does not increase suicides or suicidal thoughts.
KEEP THEM SAFE: Reducing a suicidal person’s access to highly lethal items or places is an important part of suicide prevention. While this is not always easy, asking if the at-risk person has a plan and removing or disabling the lethal means can make a difference.
BE THERE: Listen carefully and learn what the individual is thinking and feeling. Research suggests acknowledging and talking about suicide may reduce suicidal thoughts.
HELP THEM CONNECT: Save the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s number on your phone, so it’s there when you need it: 1–800–273-TALK (8255). You can also help connect individuals with a trusted person like a family member, friend, spiritual advisor, or mental health professional.
STAY CONNECTED: Staying in touch after a crisis or after being discharged from care can make a difference. Studies have shown the number of suicide deaths decreases when someone follows up with the at-risk person.
ADVANCE IN KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS: Take advantage of professional development and training related to suicide prevention and support.
The role of educators continues to evolve over time, but what does not change is the compassion and desire to protect students. Educators are often the first individuals to notice changes in student behavior and they can make the difference in a student receiving support pre, during, or post crisis. It may start with asking difficult questions; however, many survivors share what saved their life was someone asking questions and giving genuine support. You can be the one to save a life.