September is Suicide Prevention Month. As you drive around Warren County please be on the lookout for 5 billboards that CORE (Choosing Openness Regarding Experiences) has designed for Suicide Prevention Month. They will be up the entire month of September and are in Youngsville, Sugar Grove, Tidioute and Warren. These billboards provide statistics on suicide as well as offer hope for those struggling to reach out and talk to someone about what they are going through.
Suicide attributed to 47,173 deaths in 2017 up from 44,965 in 2016. This is a disturbing statistic. 1 suicide occurs every 11 minutes equaling 129 suicides every day. In 2017, 6,252 young people between the ages of 15-24 died by suicide. There are approximately 25 attempts for each completion.
These statistics disturb me because 90 percent of people that die by suicide have a treatable mental health condition. The stigma of getting help when in crisis is still real. So real that people are continuing to die by their own hand. Suicide is a permanent solution to a perceived insoluble problem. People are dying in order to solve “problems”, instead of reaching out to get help for depression, anxiety, trauma, psychosis.
For those that have never experienced suicidal thoughts it is difficult to understand having a thought of not wanting to live let alone actually doing something to kill oneself. During September, each week, I want to provide some information that will help people understand the fundamental risk factors, the proximal risk factors of suicide as well as some ways to help someone who is going through a suicidal crisis and also discuss myths and facts of suicide. I think it is important to information gathered when you do not understand something instead of using judgment and saying “that’s not what I would do”. When you are informed and have the knowledge, you are better prepared to offer empathy and hope to those in a difficult situation.
There are a number of fundamental risk factors for someone that is contemplating suicide. These are biological, personal/psychological and environmental. Biological factors include the propensity towards genetics for depression, psychosis, and other mental health disorders. Having a blood relative that has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder increases a person’s chances of having a mental health disorder, especially if this is a parent. Sex, race, and age are also biological factors. Personal and psychological risk factors include a history of child abuse, a loss of a parent, one’s values and religious beliefs and the use of alcohol and drugs. Environmental risk factors include season of the year, geography and urban versus rural. Think about the season of the year for where we live. We don’t see the sun for, at least, half a year and we have some gloomy, dreary days. Season of the year and geography for someone that already has a biological factor of depression can increase those symptoms drastically.
Next, are proximal risk factors or “triggers” that can increase someone’s thoughts towards ending his life. These are many and can include a crisis in a relationship, loss of freedom such as going to jail, being fired from a job or expelled from school, chronic illness and a major loss in one’s life. These are usually referred to as the “final straw” situation after someone has endured difficulties for a while. This is usually the problem that someone convinces himself is not able to be solved and he would be better off dead. The combination of the fundamental risk factors and the proximal risk factors increase a person’s hopelessness and increase his contemplation of suicide as a solution.
This is where the wall of resistance comes in. This is the wall that is built or has been built over time that the person does not realize is in place. This is the wall that prevents a person from causing his own death. This is the most important part.
When talking to someone that is in a suicidal crisis or could be contemplating not wanting to be alive, it is important to think of each resource as a brick to their wall of resistance. The more “bricks” someone has on their wall their chances of taking their own life decreases. The less “bricks”, the higher the risk. In talking to someone going through a difficult time find out if they see a counselor or therapist. Seeing a counselor or therapist is great, however, if this person has not formed a relationship with their counselor than the bond there is not great and this would not count as a brick. Helping this person find a counselor with whom they bond and can have a trusting relationship is important. Duty to others is important and this can include children, aging parents as well as pets. When someone has someone else relying on them such as a child, parent or animal this helps increase their need to be alive. Medication compliance is very important and oftentimes, people do not like the way medications make them feel and the side effects that go along with some psychopharmacological medications. This is an important topic to remind the person they need to discuss with their prescriber how medications make them feel and find a fit for them. Support of people, whether from their family or church or some other community group is important so the person does not feel alone, continues to be involved in outings and events and has people to talk to. Having a best friend or confidante is definitely a brick as the person has someone they can talk to about difficult situations and has a person that has their best interests at heart. If drugs and alcohol are an issue, having a sponsor and attending meetings adds a brick to a person’s wall of resistance. The biggest brick to anyone’s wall that has a drug and/or alcohol problem is sobriety. Many people have died by suicide under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Other “bricks” include being in a calm living environment, good health, positive self-esteem, job security or having job skills to access a job and fear of dying. There are many people who have a fear of dying and also many people whose religious beliefs are they will not go to heaven if they die by suicide. This is enough for some people to not go through with ending their own life. The people that are the high risks for following through with suicide are the people that do not access their “bricks” on their wall and the people that do not have many “bricks” on their wall.
It is important to understand that there are many factors that are a part of a person’s contemplation of ending their life and not all of them are a “choice” as many of us tend to think. Have compassion. Have empathy. Be kind. Be informed. Be helpful. Your choices in how you respond to someone else’s crises can help save a life.
The national suicide prevention lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The texting line is TALK to 741741
Kari Swanson is a Master’s level clinician with 25 years of working in the mental health field. She is the founder of CORE–Choosing Openness Regarding Experiences which is a non-profit organization with the mission to provide mental health awareness and suicide prevention education to Warren County.