By Karetta Hubbard, Lynne Revo-Cohen, and Maura Weir. NewPoint Strategies is a nationally recognized consulting firm assisting companies, organizations and the military manage High Risk EEO issues such as Sexual Harassment and Assault and Rape Prevention, including Suicide Prevention. Maura Weir is NewPoint’s Lead Trainer and Consultant designing and delivering workshops and Key Note speeches on Suicide Prevention.
Maura Weir, MYHEM, M.A., is an internationally recognized expert in Suicide Prevention and Intervention and has been working in the field implementing successful prevention initiatives for more than twenty years. She is a dynamic speaker and her audience appreciates her ability to deliver a positive message of hope and recovery even though the topic of suicide is a difficult one.
The following are her thoughts about the importance of understanding the reasons for Death by Suicide, and The Steps to Prevention.
This past week has been a tragic reminder with two well-known celebrities, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, choosing Death by Suicide as an option to end life. For family, friends, and the public, hearing about these deaths produces mixed emotions including disbelief, bewilderment, astonishment, and ultimately wanting to know, “could these suicides have been prevented?”
Suicide is a serious public health problem. Death by suicide is tragic, sometimes unexpected, often violent, and very final. The national statistics are staggering. According to the Centers for Disease Control, (CDC) suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States for all ages. Every day, approximately 105 Americans die by suicide, translating into nearly 45,000 deaths per year. Suicide most often occurs when stressors and mental health issues converge to create an experience of hopelessness and despair. The good news is suicide can be prevented. Everyone can play a role in prevention by first understanding the signs and symptoms that someone is thinking of suicide. The risk factors are defined below along with the steps to prevention that include helping people in emotional pain and establishing a supportive emotional network.
Each death by suicide case is complex and includes multiple factors, yet the goal of suicide prevention is not complicated. First, know the risk factors such as, but not limited to, history of alcohol and/or other form of substance abuse; family history of suicide and/or psychiatric disorder(s); loss of parent or loved one through any means, history of trauma, abuse, violence or neglect; easy access to lethal means (especially guns).
The most common means of suicide in the United States is a firearm, followed by suffocation and then poisoning. The presence of a firearm in the home has been found to be an independent, additional risk factor for suicide. The “perfect storm for suicide” is access to a weapon, misuse of drugs and alcohol, and depression.
Second, make the effort to mitigate the risk factors and increase protective factors. Protective factors include effective mental health care, connectedness, and problem-solving skills, plus providing contacts with caregivers, and including supportive and caring family and friends.
How can you tell if someone is considering suicide? Is the person exhibiting hopelessness, mental anguish, lack of belongingness, shame, defeat, depression, anxiety, isolation?
- Who is most likely to consider suicide? Is it individuals:
- who “Fall from Glory”?
- those who suffer economic losses?
- those who feel disgraced — the guy/gal who “had it all” and now are personally shamed? those individuals who have experienced occupational/academic setbacks?
- those who have disciplinary/legal issues, and/or those who have damage to reputation or honor?
The answer is anyone can die by suicide. Suicide does not discriminate.
What follows are general characterizations of Suicide Seekers:
- Death seekers– clearly intend to end their lives – Sometimes people who cannot reconcile or problem solve things that are going on in their life view suicide as the only option. They can no longer cope with what is happening internally and externally. Oftentimes, these individuals keep their plans to themselves and those around them do not know that they are thinking about suicide.
- Death initiators– intend to end their lives because they believe that the process of death is already underway. This might be the case with someone who has been diagnosed with an incurable disease and believe no matter what, they are going to die anyway so they help the process along.
- Death ignorers – do not believe that their self-inflicted death will mean the end of their existence (do not understand finality.)
- Death darers– have ambivalent feelings about death and show this in the act itself: start attempt, then stop or try to save themselves at the last minute.
Several common denominators distinguish Suicide Seekers:
- The common stimulus is unendurable psychological pain – Psychache: psychological pain that has become unbearable;
- The common purpose of suicide is to seek a solution. The ultimate solution though is to escape psychache and pain, and with help suicide does not have to be the only solution;
- The common emotion in suicide is hopelessness. When someone loses hope it is difficult to keep going and therefore very hard to consider other alternatives than suicide;
- The common internal attitude toward suicide is ambivalence. We know from research that people who have attempted suicide and lived, say they experienced uncertainty about suicide and really did not want to die, they just wanted to stop the pain.
How to Intervene? What would you do to help someone in distress? First, there are no right or wrong answers, just questions that need answers. It is important to note that asking about suicidal thoughts or feelings does not push someone into doing something self-destructive. In fact, it is important to ask direct questions of someone who is exhibiting suicidal behavior. Research says be direct and ask the question about suicide so you can put the topic on the table and start talking about it. This helps reduce the stigma attached and gives permission for the person to talk about suicide openly. You can ask the following questions:
- Do you ever feel like just giving up and ending your life?
- Do you think about dying or taking your own life?
- Are you thinking about death by suicide?
- Are you having thoughts of suicide?
When trying to support someone, listen non-judgmentally and let the person know you care. Statements such as the ones listed below have been helpful.
- How can I best support you right now?
- Have you thought about getting help?
- You are not alone in this. I’m here for you.
- I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.
Unusual intervention from Maura: “Most importantly, you never know what your actions will mean to other people. Just by asking “are you ok?” shows someone you care. People who have thought about suicide have told us that just knowing someone cared was enough not to do it that day. I saw a young man upset and clearly not himself one day in a parking lot. I went over and asked if he was ok. I listened to his story. In that story were thoughts of suicide. I listened non-judgmentally, told him I cared and asked how I could help. He leaned forward and said, “Why do you care?” With that he started to cry. I told him, “I care because you are a human being and no one has to go through something like this on their own.” He looked up and said, “That’s all I wanted to hear. That someone cares.” The young man took the hand I offered him and he reached out for help. After seeking help from a mental health professional and medication, he realized he really did not want to die. He is doing well and now helps others who have similar thoughts. He has never thought about suicide again.”
Each person has the ability to intervene in suicide. Learn the warning signs, memorize the questions to ask, know the available resources. There is help and hope. Do your best.
We have to take care ourselves, know when it is time to ask for help and then have the courage to reach out. And, we need to understand that Suicide Is Everyone’s Business – GET INVOLVED…SAVE A LIFE!
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