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About The


January 2, 2014
Column #1,688
How To Prevent Suicide
By Mike McManus

This is a season of joy for most of us. For others, it is a dark time – a time for suicide.

Suicide is the third largest killer of young people, and #2 among those aged 25-34.

More than twice as many Americans kill themselves – as are murdered.

In 2006, there were 45,300 highway deaths and only 33,300 suicides. That situation has reversed. Traffic deaths plunged to only 34,700 in 2011 while suicides jumped to 38,300.

Deaths from suicide are only part of the problem. Another million adults attempted suicide and 487,700 were hurt badly enough in 2011 to be treated in hospitals for self-inflicted injuries – wounds from guns, etc.

Therefore, it’s important for all to understand what puts people at risk of suicide, and how to help them.

Those at the greatest risk are people who attempted to kill themselves or who have a family history of suicide, according to Centers for Disease Control. Other risk factors are a history of depression or other mental illness, a history of alcohol or drug abuse, a recent stressful life event or loss - and easy access to guns or other lethal methods.

Most people are uncomfortable with the topic of suicide. However, if you know someone who is depressed and has expressed feelings of hopelessness – you can respond with strength and courage. Not all suicides can be prevented, but a majority can.

Only a small number of suicides happen without warning. Most people who kill themselves warn of their intentions. Therefore, all threats of self-harm should be taken seriously. What warning signs?

First, they may talk or write about death or suicide. Often there are changes in behaviors or mood, or the person may cry a lot. They may talk about themselves negatively or harshly and stop participating in regular activities. They may give away personal possessions and buy weapons or pills.

They may express feelings of personal failure or hopelessness, overwhelming sadness or guilt or feelings of being a burden to others.

In such cases, speak with the person. Listen very carefully. This is what you might hear: “I can’t go on. I have nothing to live for. No one cares about what happens to me. I’m at the end of my rope. I just want the pain to stop.”

Experts advise do not tell him or her how they should feel or what s/he should do. Express a desire to be supportive: “You may feel so alone, but you are not alone.”

Above all, address the issue directly and voice the unspeakable: “I’m so worried about you. Are you thinking about killing yourself?” Encourage the person to seek help from their physician or a trusted counselor.

Some worry that if the issue of suicide is raised, that it will put the idea in the head of the person. Actually, your surfacing of the issue may bring tremendous relief. The person can feel that at last, someone has heard them clearly. No longer does he/she feel invisible.

If the person confesses to contemplating suicide, ask if there is a plan to do so? Is there a weapon or pills that might be fatal? If so, ask them to be put into another room while you are talking. “Why? I can just get them again,” might be the response. To which you can say, “Right. So why not put them away for the moment? You can get them whenever you want. Right now, I need you to stay with me and focus on our conversation.”

This may seem blunt, but can be effective. You become a minor authority figure. Use that authority to get the person to follow your instructions, even if only for a moment.

Having ideas about suicide, a plan and the means to commit suicide constitute a very serious, immediate danger. Next, ask someone to help you, or call the police, if possible. Suicides rarely happen with someone else present. Staying with the person until calm is restored is important.

Say that you are there for them, and ask they tell you everything. Why is the person contemplating suicide?

If possible, have them call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), a suicide prevention hot line. Or you do so. Help is available 24 hours a day, every day.

It may seem counterintuitive to mention the possibility of suicide. But experts say that your having the guts to do so will be a refreshing change to one who tends to feel invisible to others. You show them you have heard their cry in pain.

Finally, pray.

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, but for the rights of all who are destitute,” says Proverbs 31:9.

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