Helping someone out of the darkness

Some things to know about suicide prevention

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention will hold an Out of the Darkness Walk this Saturday afternoon at Southwind Park. Last-minute walkers may register in person at 1 p.m. at Hope Pavilion. More information can be found at

After the recent Democratic candidate debate, CNN fact-checked Hilary Clinton’s assertion that “we lose 90 people a day from gun violence,” and determined it to be true but misleading. That’s because a large portion of those deaths are from suicide and accidents, in addition to homicide. This doesn’t make the figure any less alarming.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 18-24 and the 10th leading cause of death overall in the U.S. In 2013 there were 41,149 deaths from suicide. Suicide attempts can be hard to understand for those who have never felt the urge, but they are a sign of extreme distress and should never be dismissed as harmless bids for attention.

People who try to commit suicide are seeking relief from feelings of guilt or shame, rejection, loss or loneliness. They are trying to escape a situation that feels impossible to manage.

When suicide happens, relatives often blame themselves or feel very angry. The irony is that those who commit suicide may believe they are doing others a favor.

One of the best strategies we have for preventing deaths from suicide is to know who is most at risk and learn the warning signs that someone may be suicidal, then do our best to intervene.

Most at risk for suicide are people with depression, other mental illness or substance abuse, people who have made suicide attempts previously, people who have a family history of suicide or violence, people who have been physically or sexually abused, people with very serious financial or relationship problems, people with firearms in the home, people who have been incarcerated, people who have been exposed to others’ suicidal behavior -- that of family members, peers or even media figures. With Robin Williams’ suicide, there was a huge growth in interest about suicide and calls to the national suicide crisis line, which is still experiencing call volume significantly higher than the baseline over a year later.

You can discern someone’s suicidal thoughts by recognizing warning signs: mention of feeling helpless, trapped or having no reason to live, talking about suicide or self-harm, increased use of alcohol or other drugs, sleeping substantially more or less than normal, reckless behavior, withdrawing from friends and activities, trouble concentrating, extreme mood swings, aggression, giving away prized possessions, buying a gun or stockpiling pills. People considering suicide often appear depressed, but may also show rage, irritability and anxiety.

If you have suspicions that a friend or family member is considering suicide, ask the person about it. It is always better to intervene. Allowing someone to talk about his or her feelings may reduce the risk of acting on them. Ask how they’ve been coping with what’s been happening in their life. Ask if they are thinking about dying, giving up or hurting themselves. Ask if they have thought about how they might do it and if they have access to weapons or other means of self-harm.

Though it is uncomfortable, asking directly about suicidal thoughts almost always produces an honest response.

It can be very scary to come into contact with a person planning or actively considering suicide. It is vital not to shoulder the burden yourself, but to get a mental health professional involved quickly.  Do not leave the suicidal person alone. Try to get them to a doctor or emergency room or call 911. Remove access to any potential lethal weapons and medications. Trained counselors are available at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) 24/7 and it is confidential. Another hotline is 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-999-9999.

A suicide attempt can be a cry for help from someone who doesn’t actually want to do it but does not know how else to communicate their need.

Because suicide has a high correlation with depression, substance abuse and other mental illness, getting treatment for these issues is one major way to prevent suicide. But getting a depressed or mentally ill person to treatment is often easier said than done. They may feel shame or a stigma around mental health treatment or be in denial that there is a problem. Converse with them gently and share your concern about them without arguing. Don’t debate with them; ask questions instead. Mention practical problems, such as sleep issues, that your loved one can see. Do not try to diagnose larger issues. Suggest they see a general practitioner -- many people will be more open to this and can find referrals to counseling by seeing their doctor. Enlist other friends and family members for help- and see a therapist yourself to get help supporting your loved one. Forging connections to supportive services and people is the top priority for someone considering killing themselves.

Contact Ann Farrar at

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