By Judith Mitchell, MSW LCSW
Suicide is a subject reignited in the media recently, brought to the spotlight with the loss of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. It is unfortunate that the dialogue is often raised when those in the public eye take their own lives. This is a topic that needs to be discussed regardless of socioeconomic status. If individuals felt more comfortable speaking openly about internal conflicts, then maybe the stigma would be lessened and more people would seek the help they need.
Every year over 40,000 individuals die by suicide in the United States and with each of these deaths it is estimated that six people are impacted. While many national and federal agencies are involved in addressing this epidemic- what can individuals do to reduce the risk of suicide?
First, be aware of the warning signs in those you love and yourself. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has published a list:
- Talking about wanting to die, feeling hopeless, being a burden, feeling trapped or in unbearable pain;
- Looking for a way to die;
- Increasing use of alcohol or drugs;
- Behaving recklessly;
- Sleeping too much or little;
- Withdrawing or isolating socially;
- Showing rage or seeking revenge;
- Extreme mood swings.
For those experiencing these warning signs, The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has started a movement to reduce suicide rates in our country called #BeThe1To. The movement encourages individuals to follow these five steps:
ASK- “Are you thinking about suicide?” to open a conversation and show that you are willing to listen. Do not diminish concerns or promise to keep suicidal thoughts secret. Instead, do shift the focus on a reason for living. A common misconception is that talking about suicide will increase the risk when in fact the opposite is true.
KEEP THEM SAFE- Find out if someone who is having suicidal thoughts has a specific plan and what it entails. Knowing the intent and plan can determine the severity of the danger. The more steps to a plan the greater the risk, and the more need for intervention, such as calling the authorities or going to the emergency room. It is important to put “time and distance” between a suicidal person and means, such as weapons and medication.
BE THERE- Simply put- physically be present for someone by calling them or staying with them and following through- do not make a commitment you cannot keep. It is important that a suicidal person feels a sense of connectedness to others to reduce their sense of isolation.
HELP THEM CONNECT- Help someone or yourself by connecting to a safety net like the Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 800-273-8255; it is available 24/7. Also, develop a “Safety Plan”. My3 app is a safety planning app that can help store a plan on your phone.
FOLLOW UP- After these steps are completed and support systems are in place, follow up regularly with the individual to show your continued support.
If you or someone you love is having suicidal thoughts, help them reach out to mental health providers who can address these conditions with brief and effective treatments.
Where to ask for help-
- If immediate help is needed go to your local hospital emergency room.
- Employee Assistance Program (EAP) – many employers offer this benefitthat provides free short-term counseling for employees and their family.
- Insurance Provider- check with your medical insurance for a list of in network behavioral health providers.
- Online Therapy- There are also multiple online options if you prefer not to meet with someone in person, such as Thriveworks, 7 Cups of Tea, BetterHelp, Talkspace, Lantern, etc.
- Additional support can be found through the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration has a treatment referral and information service at 1800-662-4357.
A client of mine asked to share her thoughts regarding a dark time in her life, in hope that it would inspire others to ask for help. She attributed her request for assistance as saving her life.
Imagine being in a darkness where you feel trapped and nowhere to go. You feel worthless, lonely, unwanted and unloved. Not wanting to live anymore so you no longer feel the pain. No more pain, no more suffering, no more battles. Feeling everyone would be better off if you are not around. One of the hardest things I have ever done was to make that phone call and ask for help. To realize that if I did not, it truly would be the end for me. I was hospitalized for a week and today I continue my outpatient therapy. I still have my battles, but I am learning to cope with things differently. I now know I have a purpose in this life. Listen, pay attention, we give signs for help when we are most afraid. This is so hard for me to share, but if I could save one life- it is all worth it.
I am a survivor!!
By Judith Mitchell, MSW, LCSW; a mental health counselor at the Osceola Regional Outpatient Behavioral Health Partial Hospitalization/ Intensive Outpatient Program.