The new Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is now open
Suicide is a major mental health concern worldwide. A study by The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) showed an increase in completed suicide by more than 30% in more than half of the states in the United States between 1999 and 2016. It is difficult to have accurate statistics on suicide attempts, as many people who attempt to take their own lives do not report it. However, we do have limited data on those who have reported their thoughts, have attempted suicide, or have received some type of assistance due to suicide ideation or attempts. Per the CDC, nearly 46,000 people died by suicide in 2020, which equates to one death every 11 minutes. In addition, data showed that in 2020, 12.2 million U.S. adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.2 million U.S. adults made a suicide plan, and 1.2 million U.S. adults attempted suicide.
Various factors contribute to suicidal ideation, planning, attempts, and completion of suicide:
- Mental Illness – Depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, psychosis
- Traumas – Childhood or current physical, emotional, financial, or sexual abuse, bullying, etc.
- Substance Abuse – The use of drugs or alcohol can alter a person’s state of mind and judgment and can contribute to losing inhibitions and making impulsive decisions.
- Significant losses – Loss of a job, loss of a loved one or a pet, academic failure, homelessness, divorce, loss of an important relationship, being arrested, etc.
- Hopelessness and helplessness – When people feel no one cares about them, that there is no reason to live, that there is no joy in life, that their situation has no other solution, that no one will miss them, this is a major red flag.
- Illness and reduced self-sufficiency – Recently diagnosed chronic or acute illness, feeling like a burden to others, constant pain that makes people think about their quality of life.
- Accidental death or Cry for Help – Self-cutting or taking non-prescribed medications/drugs or too much medication as a way to get help or to cause accidental death.
There is a misconception that people who attempt or complete suicide are weak, cowards, selfish, crazy, and inconsiderate for not thinking of the pain they will cause the survivors. The truth is that the majority of people who attempt or complete suicide are not selfish or defective for making that choice. The reality is that they are in so much emotional pain that they are not thinking clearly and feel or think that there are no other solutions to their problems or stressor. They often feel trapped, hopeless, and helpless.
Most of the people who attempt suicide give us warning signs that we may or may not recognize. Psychological autopsies where surviving family members and friends are interviewed have given us some insight into those warning signs. They may include:
- Talking or feeling like there is no sense of purpose in life or to keep on living.
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Reckless behavior
- Uncontrolled Anger
- Isolation and they cease to engage in previously pleasurable activities
- Anxiety, agitation, or sudden mood changes
- Changes in sleep or appetite
- Feeling hopeless, desperate, or trapped
- Talking about wanting to die or suicide
- Putting affairs in order
- Giving away possessions
- Acquiring the means to die by suicide (e.g., gun, rope, knives, pills, etc.)
Suicide is preventable and often there are opportunities to intervene to help save someone’s life. However, by knowing the risk factors and identifying the signs and symptoms we can take a proactive approach where the ideation does not have to become a plan or an attempt. One of the most important things you can do when someone trusts you with telling you they are thinking about suicide is to acknowledge how difficult it must have been to share this information with you and that you are glad they trusted to talk about this topic. Some helpful things you can say or do include:
- Initiate the conversation and don’t be afraid to express your concerns. Say something like: “I’ve noticed you have been isolating lately. I miss seeing you. Is everything okay?”
- Assess for Risk of Suicide or harm. You will not put the idea of suicide in their head by asking. On the contrary, by asking you may be able to discourage that person from completing suicide, take action, obtain assistance, and refer them to services. Research has shown that people who are contemplating suicide most likely will feel relieved that you ask the question about suicide.
- You can ask: “Have you been having or currently have thoughts of hurting or killing yourself? If they respond affirmatively, try not to appear scared or shocked. If you appear scared or anxious, they may shut down and not want to tell you if they have a plan, means, and intent to follow through with their suicidal thinking.
- Listen empathically, do not judge or shame them for feeling/thinking this way.
- Offer to connect them to community or emergency resources such as an emergency room or a psychiatric hospital.
- If possible, follow up with the person often until you feel they are safe or have been connected to services.
- Encourage them to get professional help such as a consult with their doctor, a therapist, support groups, and medication.
- Create a safety plan for current and future suicidal ideation for current and future suicidal ideation (e.g., remove weapons, and drugs, provide information on suicide prevention hotlines and make a list of people they can call).
National Suicide Prevention Hotline number
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts talk to your health care provider, reach out to a friend, seek mental health counseling, or use the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). For 24-hour assistance for suicide prevention, intervention, and referrals, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988. This lifeline was created in 2005 via a multi-project effort led by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Originally, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline was designated with the number 1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-273-8255. July 16, 2022, this service line was renamed “The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.” Now anyone in the United States who is experiencing a suicidal, mental health, and/or substance use crisis can call, text, or chat with a trained Lifeline counselor. The Crisis Lifeline has counselors who speak many languages and are trained on cultural issues and populations such as the LGBTQ community. The 1-800-273-8255 is still working so people have the option to call that number or simply dial 988. To use the chat feature, Lifeline’s website has to be accessed at https://988lifeline.org/chat/. For more information and frequently asked questions, visit the SAMSHA website at https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/988/faqs.