We can all play a role in preventing suicide! That’s the message from the The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, which has designated September as Suicide Awareness Month. A national survey found most Americans recognize that suicide can be prevented, and that they would do something to help someone considering suicide. Yet, despite this, those surveyed did not feel prepared to help, and stated they would not know what to say or do to help.
The stress, anxiety and losses of the pandemic have left people feeling hopeless. Data released by the CDC National Center for Health Statistics reported by the Action Alliance June 11, 2021 identified a 39% increase in emergency room visits for suspected suicide attempts among youth aged 12-17 years during February and March 2021, when compared to the same time period in 2019. We must all be aware so we can help!
Suicide awareness starts with learning the risk factors and warning signs that someone might be considering suicide. Risk factors include, but are not limited to, the presence of mental health disorders, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, expressions of hopelessness, history of trauma, or a current personal crisis such as a job loss, and social isolation. Some signs that a person might be considering suicide include talking about wanting to die, feeling like a burden to others, feeling hopeless, or trapped, or changes in behaviors such as sleep patterns, increased substance use or severe mood swings.
The good news is that there are simple ways we can engage someone we think is considering suicide. The Action Alliance campaign #BeThe1To gives us five basics steps to take.
Ask the person directly, “Are you thinking about suicide?” People are sometimes reluctant to ask this question because they are afraid it will introduce a possibility the person is not already considering. But this question will not increase suicidal thoughts; it tells the person you care and are willing to listen to their emotional pain! You can follow up with “How can I help?”
Be There physically if possible, or on the phone. Help them identify those who can help. Cindy Birkner, Youth Ministry Coordinator for Missouri Mid-South Conference UCC, presented the workshop, Suicide Awareness during Synod 33. Birkner has personal and professional experience with youth who have contemplated, attempted, and/or died by suicide. She has talked with grieving loved ones experiencing the pain and loss. Birkner encourages people to identify a PIT crew --“People I trust” -- as a network of support. The PIT crew should include at least three people the person can call on who will listen and stay calm during times of suicidal thoughts. If asked to be part of someone’s PIT crew, please seriously consider it. This connectedness can be lifesaving.
Keep Them Safe. If suicide is being considered, ask if they have done anything to try to kill themselves before calling you, and determine if they have a specific plan with access to the means to complete their plan. If the plan and means are in place, you may need to call 911 or get them to the closest emergency room.
Help Them Connect. Supports like Lifeline, 800-273-8255, a PIT crew, and community resources such as a crisis team or counselor can help. Help them to begin to develop a safety plan including people to contact when feeling suicidal (PIT)
Follow Up. Send a message after your initial contact, text or call to check in. Ask if there is anything else you can do. This helps the person feel connected and supported.
These five steps provide practical help to promote healing and give hope. The Action Alliance research supports the belief that, “Together, we can prevent suicide by learning to help ourselves, help others, seek consultation from trained providers (hotlines and clinicians) and to seek hospital care when necessary.” Learn about each step and why the steps are effective here.
Remember, you are not expected to provide professional counseling and support, however you have the power to show up, and show you care. You can share love and compassion to help an individual get the help they need. #BeThere
Faith. Hope. Life., a campaign developed by the Action Alliance’s Faith Communities Task Force, offers this free download to educate faith leaders: Suicide Prevention Competencies for Faith Leaders: Supporting Life Before, During, and After a Suicidal Crisis
Learn more: National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention https://theactionalliance.org/
Confidential services are available:
For emotional support specifically related to COVID-19, call the Disaster Distress Helpline (800-985-5990), or text TalkWithUs to 66746.
For those who identify as part of the LGBTQ community, call the TrevorLifeline (866-488-7386) or text START to 678-678.
For veterans who are in crisis, call the Veterans Crisis Line (800-273-8255 and press 1) or text 838255.
For frontline workers dealing with anxiety, stress, fear, isolation, or other difficult emotions, text FRONTLINE to 741741.
Some of the national events taking place during Suicide Prevention Month:
September 1: Action Alliance #BeThere Twitter Chat at 2 PM ET
September 10: National AI/AN Hope for Life Day
September 10: World Suicide Prevention Day
September 10: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's World Suicide Prevention Day All-day Facebook Live at 12pm ET
September 17: National Physician Suicide Awareness Day
Deborah Ringen MSN, RN-BC is a Faith Community Nurse and the Minister of Health and Wellness for the Southern New England Conference, UCC.