Debbie Caine a Limited Licensed Professional Counselor (LLPC) in private practice at Trinity Family Counseling Center. She completed her Master’s degrees in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Oakland University, and works with individuals, couples, families, and groups across a range of presenting issues.
What have we learned about suicide? Suicide can affect all people. There is no single cause for suicide and no single variable that can prevent suicide. Sometimes suicide is not preventable. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) within the past year about 41,000 individuals died by suicide, 1.3 million adults have attempted suicide, 2.7 million adults have had a plan to attempt suicide and 9.3 million adults have had suicidal thoughts.
What does this all mean? Unfortunately, our society often treats suicide in a way that negatively brands an individual. However, suicidal ideation is not a brand or a label; it is a sign that an individual is suffering deeply and must seek treatment. And it is falsehoods that often prevent people from getting the help they so desperately need to get better.
Attention to and understanding of the myths associated with suicide can help society realize the importance of helping others seek treatment, and show individuals the importance of addressing their mental health challenges. NAMI defines some of the myths and facts about suicide as follows:
Myth –Suicide only affects individuals with a mental health condition. Fact – Many individuals with mental illness are not affected by suicidal thoughts and not all people who attempt or die by suicide have mental illness.
Myth – Most suicides happen suddenly without warning. Fact – Verbal or behavioral warning signs precede most suicides. It is important to learn and understand the warning signs and risk factors. Something to look out for when concerned that a person may be suicidal is a change in behavior or the presence of entirely new behaviors.
Warning signs may include:
Threats or comments about killing themselves
Increased alcohol and drug use
Social withdrawal from friends, family and the community
Dramatic mood swings
Talking, writing, or thinking about death
Impulsive or reckless behavior
Signs of Imminent Danger?
Putting their affairs in order and giving away their possessions
Saying goodbye to friends and family
Mood shifts from despair to calm
Planning, possibly by looking around to buy, steal, or borrow tools they need to complete suicide
Risk Factors include:
Family history of suicide
Access to firearms
Serious or chronic medical illness
Gender – men are four times more likely to die by suicide
History of trauma or abuse
Age – people under age 24 or above age 65 are at a higher risk for suicide
Recent tragedy or loss
Agitation and sleep deprivation
Myth – Once an individual is suicidal, he or she will always remain suicidal. Fact – Active suicidal ideation is often short-term and situation-specific. Studies have shown that approximately 54% of individuals who have died by suicide did not have a diagnosable mental health disorder. And for those with mental illness, the proper treatment can help to reduce symptoms. An individual with suicidal thoughts and previous attempts can live a long, successful life.
Myth – People who die by suicide are selfish and take the easy way out. Fact – Typically, people do not die by suicide because they do not want to live. People die by suicide because they want to end their suffering. These individuals are suffering so deeply that they feel helpless and hopeless.
Myth – Talking about suicide will lead to and encourage suicide. Fact – There is a widespread stigma associated with suicide and as a result, many people are afraid to speak about it. Talking about suicide reduces the stigma and allows individuals to seek the help they desperately need.
As a society, we should NOT be afraid to talk about suicide. If you think you are at risk or you suspect someone close to you is, PLEASE USE THE RESOURCES AVAILABLE TO YOU. We can all help to prevent suicide.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free, confidential support for people in distress at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
If you or someone you know is in crisis -- make sure you or he or she is NOT left alone.
If we create conversation surrounding suicide, we can create change and give individuals that are suffering permission to use their voice to get the help that they need. The support of a caring professional counselor can help a person acquire a better understand their feelings and can assist with improving mental wellness and resiliency.