By Peter Klein, EDR Board of Directors
Over the last number of years, I have learned of friends and family affected by suicide and witnessed the heartache left. June 22nd, 2021, I was personally affected by suicide. Nobody can prepare you for the empty feeling on wondering why, how you didn’t see it coming, and wishing that you could have done something to prevent it. I am sharing this personal story because I want to bring awareness to suicide prevention.
Every year, National Suicide Prevention is acknowledged in September to remember those who we have lost but also to educate people on the awareness and signs of suicide. Sioux Falls hosts an Out of Darkness Walk to help to help the community come together to take the first step to preventing suicide. The walk will be held at the Levitt on September 23rd, 2023. Please consider joining the community in taking steps to prevent suicide and support a great cause. You can find more details by clicking on this link Out of Darkness Walk.
What is suicide?
Suicide is when people harm themselves with the goal of ending their life, and they die as a result.
A suicide attempt is when people harm themselves with the goal of ending their life, but they do not die.
Avoid using terms such as “committing suicide,” “successful suicide,” or “failed suicide” when referring to suicide and suicide attempts, as these terms often carry negative meanings.
Who is at risk for suicide?
People of all genders, ages, and ethnicities can be at risk for suicide.
The main risk factors for suicide are:
- A history of suicide attempts
- Depression, other mental disorders, or substance use disorder
- Chronic pain
- Family history of a mental disorder or substance use
- Family history of suicide
- Exposure to family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
- Presence of guns or other firearms in the home
- Having recently been released from prison or jail
- Exposure, either directly or indirectly, to others’ suicidal behavior, such as that of family members, peers, or celebrities
Most people who have risk factors for suicide will not attempt suicide, and it is difficult to tell who will act on suicidal thoughts. Although risk factors for suicide are important to keep in mind, someone who is showing warning signs of suicide may be at higher risk for danger and need immediate attention.
Stressful life events (such as the loss of a loved one, legal troubles, or financial difficulties) and interpersonal stressors (such as shame, harassment, bullying, discrimination, or relationship troubles) may contribute to suicide risk, especially when they occur along with suicide risk factors.
What are the warning signs of suicide?
Warning signs that someone may be at immediate risk for attempting suicide include:
- Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves
- Talking about feeling empty or hopeless or having no reason to live
- Talking about feeling trapped or feeling that there are no solutions
- Feeling unbearable emotional or physical pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Giving away important possessions
- Saying goodbye to friends and family
- Putting affairs in order, such as making a will
- Taking great risks that could lead to death, such as driving extremely fast
- Talking or thinking about death often
Other serious warning signs that someone may be at risk for attempting suicide include:
- Displaying extreme mood swings, suddenly changing from very sad to very calm or happy
- Making a plan or looking for ways to kill themselves, such as searching for lethal methods online, stockpiling pills, or buying a gun
- Talking about feeling great guilt or shame
- Using alcohol or drugs more often
- Acting anxious or agitated
- Changing eating or sleeping habits
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
What treatment options and therapies are available?
Effective, evidence-based interventions are available to help people who are at risk for suicide:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT):CBT is a type of psychotherapy that can help people learn new ways of dealing with stressful experiences. CBT helps people learn to recognize their thought patterns and consider alternative actions when thoughts of suicide arise.
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT):DBT is a type of psychotherapy that has been shown to reduce suicidal behavior in adolescents. DBT also has been shown to reduce the rate of suicide attempts in adults with borderline personality disorder, a mental illness characterized by an ongoing pattern of varying moods, self-image, and behavior that often results in impulsive actions and problems in relationships. A therapist trained in DBT can help a person recognize when their feelings or actions are disruptive or unhealthy and teach the person skills that can help them cope more effectively with upsetting situations.
- Brief Intervention Strategies: Research has shown that creating a safety plan or crisis response plan—with specific instructions for what to do and how to get help when having thoughts about suicide—can help reduce a person’s risk of acting on suicidal thoughts. Staying connected and following up with people who are at risk for suicide also has been shown to help lower the risk of future suicide attempts. Research also has shown that increasing safe storage of lethal means can help reduce suicide attempts and deaths by suicide. In addition, collaborative assessment and management of suicide risk can help to reduce suicidal thoughts.
- Collaborative Care: Collaborative care is a team-based approach to mental health care. A behavioral health care manager will work with the person, their primary health care provider, and mental health specialists to develop a treatment plan. Collaborative care has been shown to be an effective way to treat depression and reduce suicidal thoughts.
What should I do if I am struggling or someone I know is having thoughts of suicide?
If you notice warning signs of suicide—especially a change in behavior or new, concerning behavior—get help as soon as possible.
Family and friends are often the first to recognize the warning signs of suicide, and they can take the first step toward helping a loved one find mental health treatment.
If someone tells you that they are going to kill themselves, do not leave them alone. Do not promise that you will keep their suicidal thoughts a secret—tell a trusted friend, family member, or other trusted adult.
Call 911 if there is an immediate life-threatening situation.
You also can contact:
- 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline
- Call or text 988; Llame al 988 (para ayuda en español)
The Lifeline provides 24-hour, confidential support to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Call or text 988 to connect with a trained crisis counselor. Support is also available in English via chat at 988lifeline.org .