Youth suicide in the United States is a epidemic on the rise. For young people ages 15 to 24, it is the third leading cause of death. In the last two weeks, three Southern Minnesota teens took their lives. Many of those contemplating death show symptoms or warning signs. Before another life is lost, suicide prevention and education must be present at home, in schools, and within the general populace.
Warning signs and what to watch for
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 20.9 million Americans suffer from a depressive illness in any given year. Depression is also a leading factor for young people who have taken their lives. Depression takes on many forms and may be disguised, or presented as, eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, reckless behavior, social isolation and inability to adapt to educational goals.
The organization Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) said the “brain as an organ can get sick, just like other organs in the body” and it is important to notice and understand the signs of depression in others. Common warning signs are:
•Ideation or thinking about suicide
•Feelings of anger and hopelessness
•Withdrawal from family, friends, work, school and activities
•Severe anxiety and irritability
•Preoccupation with death
•Suddenly visiting or calling people one cares about
•Making arrangements or settling of affairs
•Talking about suicide
If you see the warning signs
SAVE says the perceived stigma of being labeled as depressed or suicidal can often prevent those in need of help from doing so. But becoming involved with the person in a non-confrontational, non-judgmental way is the first step to getting the help needed and preventing suicide.
•Start a dialogue—Suicidal thoughts are common with those suffering from mental illness or depression. SAVE says it is appropriate to ask questions about the person’s thoughts about suicide, such as “Do you have a plan to commit suicide or take your life?” Asking these tough questions will help determine if the person is in immediate danger.
•Never keep a suicide plan secret—If you are aware of a person’s suicide plan, do not keep it to yourself. “It is better to lose a relationship from violating a confidence than it is it go to a funeral,” SAVE said. “And most of the time they will come back and thank you for saving their life.”
•Do not minimize the problem—Keep personal opinions of the situation out of the dialogue. Saying “It’s not that bad,” or “You have everything to live for,” will only increase the feelings of guilt and shame. Instead, tell the person help is available and the experience is treatable.
•Offer to work together to get help—Help the person at risk find a doctor or mental health professional, be there when the person makes the first phone call for help, or offer go along to the first visit.
Resources and hotlines
For more than 50 years, suicide hotlines have been available for those at risk. Operators offer conversation and counseling to help reduce stress and foster healthy life decisions. Counselors often help create safety plans with callers to ease anxiety and prevent dangerous situations. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and is available 24/7. It is free and confidential.
SAVE offers brochures, websites and more phone numbers to call and get help. The site links to organizations that deal directly with mental health disorders, suicide prevention and educational tools that offer professional and personal insight.
Always take thoughts of suicide seriously and offer the help or get the help needed right away. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger of suicide, call 911. Suicide is preventable and the pain is treatable.
For more information about suicide prevention visit the website.