Breaking the Silence

Today, September 10, 2019, is World Suicide Prevention Day. We’re currently in the middle of National Suicide Prevention Week (September 8-14), and September as a whole is known as Suicide Prevention Month, so this seemed to be a timely topic for a counseling blog.

Before I jump into any further discussion regarding suicide, I want to take you on a little journey. My first experience with the word suicide came as a seventh grader when I found out that one of my classmates in a class of twelve kids had tried to commit suicide. At that time, the thought of someone wanting to take his or her own life was almost unfathomable to me. (Sometimes it still is.) Back then, suicide felt like a foreign word. I had no idea what it meant and the topic was not really even addressed. Life just moved on as if nothing had happened. I vaguely remember my parents trying to describe what suicide meant in the hours following the news, but there was not really any follow up conversation.

Fast forward to my freshman year of high school. Three different girls in my freshman class attempted to commit suicide within two weeks of each other. Just like my experience in seventh grade, no one really talked about what had happened, and I was left wondering what would cause a person to get to the place of wanting to end his or her life. I only wish I had known the warning signs of suicide back then.

Suicide is often treated as a taboo topic. It’s perceived to be shameful and embarrassing, and it is awkward to talk about. So we do what is common when something is uncomfortable: we avoid talking about it, but silence surrounding suicide is actually what perpetuates the problem.

Conversations about suicide are actually incredibly important. Suicide has been called a silent epidemic. It is the tenth overall cause of death in the United States, but if we talk specifically about young people under the age of 24, suicide jumps up to the second leading cause of death. In fact, in the United States, there are estimated to be nearly 3500 DAILY suicide attempts by high school students. If adults are included in these numbers would increase. It’s estimated that there is an attempt every 27 seconds. Typically, suicide does not just happen in the spur of the moment. Four out of five people who commit suicide give clear warning signs prior. However, if we do not know how to pick up on the warning signs, the signs will go unnoticed.

These statistics prove that there is a great need for breaking the silence.  We need people who are educated about the warning signs and know what to do in times of crisis. That job cannot be left up to counselors and mental health professionals alone. Parents, teachers, and friends all play an important role in protecting the lives of young people today.

Suicide awareness begins with an understanding of the warning signs. While this is not an exhaustive list of warning signs, these are the more common ones to watch out for.

  • Preoccupation with death and talk /writing about suicide – Teens often talk about what is on their heart and minds. Kids contemplating suicide will often make statements that indicate they are thinking about death such as “You won’t have to worry about me for much longer.” Their drawings or music choice might also include the theme of death.
  • Statements of hopelessness and worthlessness or other signs of deep depression – One of the biggest warning signs of suicide is a continual feeling of hopelessness. Suicide often occurs because a person has no hope that anything will change or get better in the future. Although depression does not cause suicide, suicide is more likely in cases of deep depression.
  • Making specific plans regarding how to follow through with suicide
  • Loss of interest in what was once pleasurable activities or noticeable changes in the normal routine – A teen who suddenly quits the basketball team or stops enjoying what they usually enjoy is cause for concern. Pay attention to whether or not the teenager spends more time sleeping during the day and the normal routine shifts.
  • Withdrawal from family and friends – Suicide is often linked to isolation. Teens are typically pretty social, so withdrawal from friends or family is a big concern.
  • Saying “goodbyes” and making preparations for death such as giving away prized possessions
  • Sudden changes in mood (going from down and depressed to acting fine in a short matter of time)- Once the decision to commit suicide has been made, there might be a shift in the teen’s mood as they now feel peace about their decision. Teens are naturally moody, so this can be hard to decipher, but drastic changes should be noted.

Any changes in a person’s mood or behavior are cause for concern. Warning signs are a call for help and should be taken seriously. I often tell kids in my office that because life is valuable, any talk about death is serious. If warning signs seem to be apparent in someone you know, stay calm. You may be the only person who picks up on the warning signs, so treat them with urgency. Talk with the person and ask them about their plans for suicide. Seek immediate help by getting the person to the nearest emergency room or by calling 911 if a specific plan is mentioned. The Suicide Prevention Hotline is also a great resource and will connect a caller to the nearest crisis center. If you are concerned, say something! Talking about suicide with a suicidal person does not actually increase the prevalence of suicide. Help the person seek out counseling or other community resources that would support them.

Suicide does not have to be a silent epidemic. Learn these warning signs and be ready to take action. You might be saving a life. It’s time to break the silence. Will you join me?

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