Suicide Awareness & Prevention
Suicide is a major public health problem that has profound impact upon those who are touched directly and indirectly.
In the United States, there are more deaths by suicide than to homicide, and in 2014, more than 42,000 people died by suicide – and many more individuals attempted or considered ending their lives. The Mental Health Association of Westchester is working to raise awareness of the risk of suicide and promote suicide prevention education through our Community Conversation series, as well as through our safeTALK and ASIST trainings.
Suicide results from the interplay of many factors and occurs across all ages, cultures, ethnicities and socio-economic groups. Of people who die by suicide, most have a diagnosable behavioral health or substance abuse problem at the time of their death. Suicide is often preventable.
Prevention programs are based on the premise that, most of the time, risk of suicide can be recognized and completed suicide prevented. You can help if you are concerned about a loved one.
How to help someone who is at risk of suicide
The simple act of asking can be a powerful way to prevent the suicide of someone in distress. Yet many – probably most – of us do not recognize that level of distress, nor feel able to start the conversation if we do. We may be afraid of making a situation worse, or even giving someone the idea. It is now well-established that beginning a conversation – openly, honestly and without judgment – is in fact a very helpful thing to do. In fact, it is usually met with relief by someone who is thinking of suicide. By starting the conversation, we tell someone that we care enough to notice their despair and that we care enough to acknowledge their pain. By talking with someone, we do not obligate ourselves to solving their problems, nor do we take responsibility for their life. We do offer connection in the moment and, hopefully, a bridge to ongoing support. If someone is in imminent danger, call 911. For crisis consultation, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988 (formerly 1-800-273-TALK)
Suggestions for talking with someone who is thinking of suicide
- Explicitly acknowledge that suicide is the issue. Be direct, talk openly and matter-of-factly.
- Listen. Listen without judgment or advice giving. Don't lecture on the value of life or minimize the problems.
- Don't be sworn to secrecy.
- Offer hope that alternatives are available but do not offer glib reassurance.
- Take action. Remove means, if possible without endangering yourself.
- Get help from persons or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.
- Call 911 if an attempt is in progress.
Suggestions adapted from Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Warning signs of suicide
You might start the conversation if you become aware of “warning signs” – indicators that someone is currently thinking of suicide. Significant losses in life, such as the loss of a relationship, job or health may trigger thoughts of suicide. While each situation is different, some warning signs include expressions of:
- A wish to die or explicit suicide intention expressed through words, music, drawings, writing, online postings, etc.
- Feelings of hopelessness, having no reason to live; no sense of purpose or meaning in life.
- Feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
- Sense of being a burden to others.
Other warning signs include actions such as:
- Identifying and/or obtaining means of suicide.
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs; increased risky behaviors.
- Displaying extreme mood swings; including rage.
- Changes in sleeping or eating.
- Withdrawing or isolating from usual activities and relationships.
American Association of Suicidology: a not-for-profit organization that is a national clearinghouse for information about suicide including public education, training for professionals and volunteers and research.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: a not-for-profit organization dedicated to understanding and preventing suicide through research, education and advocacy, and to reaching out to those impacted by suicide.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: a federal agency that provides information about suicide including the connection between bullying and suicide and recommendations to media for safe reporting.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (1-800-273-TALK) offers online resources for individuals and their loved ones, as well as crisis services via phone and chat, including dedicated services for veterans and their families.
Suicide Prevention and Intervention Resources: MHA has compiled a brief guide to national and local resources that offer immediate help, as well as information and support.