Suicide is an issue that impacts a growing number of people in our communities on a consistent basis. It is also an issue people may be hesitant to discuss even though they generally have a lot of questions about it.
Although studies have found suicide tends to increase in the spring and summer months, if the numbers are lower in February it is perhaps only because the month has fewer days. The facts is, about 130 people die by suicide every day in the U.S. – more than 48,000 in 2018 – while in Georgia three to four people end their lives each day.
Such numbers make suicide the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S., and the eleventh leading cause of death in Georgia. It is also, sadly, the second leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 34. While overdose is the most common way people attempt suicide, firearms are leading cause of death by suicide – and are the cause in more than half of U.S. suicides.
Although researchers have studied suicide for decades, and learned a great deal in the process, we still cannot point to a single cause. What we do know is although people might believe suicide happens without warning – one of several myths about suicide – there are actually several risk factors and warning signs.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, chronic mental or physical health conditions, stressful life events, exposure to trauma, and access to lethal means are all risk factors for suicide. Likewise, an individual who talks about ending his or her life, expresses hopelessness, increases use of substances or becomes increasingly isolated is displaying some common warning signs of suicidal behavior.
Another myth is that asking someone about suicide will make him or her more likely to attempt it. This is not true. Asking someone if he or she is thinking about hurting themselves, or has thought about ending their life, can provide an outlet for people to talk about the feelings they’re experiencing. Asking also shows you care – something critically important to someone who might feel hopeless, isolated or unwanted.
Finally, one of the sentiments about suicide I find most troubling is the idea that people who talk about or attempt suicide are only looking for attention. Actually, this is true – though not in the way you might think. People don’t end their lives because they don’t want to live, they do so because they want to end what for them is an insufferable and hopeless situation.
People who talk about wanting to end their suffering or not wanting to be a burden are probably not looking for attention but reassurance – that their life is not meaningless, that their suffering might not be permanent, that their problems have solutions. They are likely experiencing a very difficult and complex set of circumstances and want to know someone cares and that their life is not worthless. If you encounter an individual in this state, the best thing you can offer is compassion, even if you don’t really understand.
One of the most important things we’ve learned about suicide is that it can almost always be prevented. Highland Rivers Health offers many suicide prevention resources, including a no-cost suicide prevention training (called QPR) that can be provided onsite at businesses, schools, churches, community organizations or almost anywhere else. The Georgia Crisis and Access Line can be reached at (800) 715-4225, and the national Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available at (800) 273-TALK; both are available 24 hours a day.
How we react to a person exhibiting warning signs for suicide can make a tremendous difference in whether that individual might attempt suicide. We all have the power to help someone, to offer compassion and caring, and ultimately to save a life.