September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day. Every year, more than 800,000 people die by suicide worldwide, making suicide a public health problem that greatly impacts those individuals, their loved ones, and communities across the world.
Despite the work of public health agencies, law enforcement, non-profit groups, and community organizations we are still seeing staggering local and national suicide trends. In 2015, 44,193 Americans died by suicide – that’s an average of 121 suicides per day. In Washington State, 4% of adults and almost one in five tenth grade students say they’ve seriously considered suicide in the last year, and in King County, more than 1,200 people died by suicide from 2009-2013. It is easy to feel helpless when considering the immense loss these numbers represent, but together as a community, suicide prevention is possible.
For instance, we know that social connectedness is one of the strongest protective factors against suicide. Social connectedness is how connected we are to our families, friends, co-workers, communities, and others. In times of high stress and uncertainty, those around us who usually seem ok, may not be ok. Checking in with people is powerful; connecting with someone who is struggling or at risk of suicide can make all of the difference.
The theme of this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day, Take a minute, change a life, shows us that we can all be part of the solution. Everyone can help prevent suicides. You don’t have to be an expert to make a difference.
How to talk about suicide
Talking about suicide can be difficult, but being open and non-judgmental can help you connect with someone who is at risk. Here are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind when talking about suicide:
- Emphasize that there are always options other than suicide, even for people at serious risk
- Talk about people at risk of suicide with sensitivity and respect
- Support the idea that seeking help in a crisis is normal and healthy
- Be supportive and nonjudgmental
- Know a good resource, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, in case someone you know needs help, the lifeline provides 24/7 free and confidential support
- Assume that suicide is not inevitable and that there are experts with a lot of experience who can help guide families and individuals through a crisis
- If you are a teen, and you are worried about yourself, a friend or peer, feel comfortable reaching out to a supportive adult with your concerns.
- Assume that people who are talking about suicide are ‘just kidding’ or ‘trying to get attention.’ Take suicide talk seriously.
- Blame or shame people after a suicide
- Talk disrespectfully about people with mental illness or imply that everyone who is mentally ill is at risk
- Use stigmatizing language like “commit suicide,” which makes people think of crime. Say “died by suicide” or “ended their life” instead.
Take a minute, change a life
A little goes a long way. Do your part to prevent suicide by doing a few (or all!) of the actions on this list. They only take a minute, and can help someone considering suicide to feel more connected to others.
Things you can do in a minute to prevent suicides:
- Call or text a friend you haven’t talked to in a while
- Ask your grocery store cashier, mail carrier or other service provider how their day is going
- Save the suicide prevention lifeline number in your phone (1-800-273-8255)
- Say hi to your neighbor
- Tell your kids it’s ok to reach out to an adult for help
- Tell someone who seems sad, “You don’t seem like yourself lately. I’m here, if you need someone to talk to.”
- Learn the warning signs of suicide risk
- Make eye contact and smile at a coworker or classmate
- If you own a firearm that is not safely stored, add a lock box to your shopping list (Get a 10-15% discount)
- Share the suicide prevention lifeline number on social media
- Invite someone out for coffee
- Manage your stress by doing a one minute breathing exercise
- Share this blog with a family member or friend
Firearms and suicide
Almost half of suicides in Washington are by firearm, and 80% of firearm deaths are suicides. With that in mind, Public Health started the LOK-IT-UP program, which works to reduces access to means of suicide and promotes safe storage of firearms in our communities. As part of LOK-IT-UP, we partner with firearm retailers to make it easier and less costly for King County residents to safety store their firearms. Learn more about which safe storage device is right for you and find participating retailers here.
News stories that sensationalize or stigmatize suicide can actually increase suicide rates. For ideas about how to safely report on suicide, review these guidelines.
Originally posted on September 8, 2017.