September is Suicide Prevention Month
The 11 Minute Window
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Suicide is not a comfortable topic and death by suicide is often stigmatized leaving those left behind unable to speak openly about their loss.
Thoughts of suicide can affect anyone regardless of age, gender or background. About 3% of adults and a much higher percentage of youths are entertaining thoughts of suicide at any given time. You may be surprised to learn that in South Carolina suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for ages 10-14 and the third leading cause ages 15-34.
Although common, thoughts of suicide should not be considered normal and often indicate more serious issues. Unrecognized mental health conditions are a major contributor to suicidal behaviors. On average one person dies by suicide across our state every 12 hours. Current research tells us that the actual decision making process for someone initiating a suicide attempt occurs within an 11 minute window. That is a scary thought!
We have all reacted to stressful situations with anger and thought about or even taken an action that, after a cooling off period, we recognize was not really the best way to address the issue. Individuals with high suicidal risk factors and limited “protective” factors such as overall resilience, sense of connectedness to others, and access to local health services, are more vulnerable to the impact of stress and other factors on decision making.
We can all initiate and benefit from honest conversations about mental health conditions and suicide. Reaching out and asking a simple question to start the conversation can change a life. Asking a person directly if he or she is having suicidal thoughts, does not lead that person to greater consideration of self harm. In reality by using a non-judgmental, and matter of fact approach you may open the door for dialogue and allow them to get help.
Here are some risk factors to consider:
Person has a history of prior suicide attempts, or self injurious behavior
Current or past psychiatric/mental health disorders, especially mood disorders, PTSD, antisocial behavior, aggression, impulsivity
History of alcohol/substance abuse or increasing alcohol or drug use
Physical disability or recent onset of illness
Sense of hopelessness
Feeling trapped in a situation
Withdrawing from friends, family, society
Dramatic mood changes
A question to start with could be as simple as “Sometimes when people have strong feelings like you just shared with me, they feel like they can’t handle it anymore. Has that ever happened to you?” Then follow up with “Have you ever thought seriously about death or suicide?” Based on their response together you can develop a plan to get them the help they need.
Some Resources for More Information:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK can connect you to the nearest available crisis center or http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
SAMHSA Mental Health Services Locator www.mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/databases/
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, www.afsp.org/
National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention http://actionallianceforsuicideprevention.org
Suicide Prevention Resource Center http://www.wprc.org/
Diane Carlson LMSW, ACHP-SW
Director of Support Services