I'M A SURVIVOR
I attempted suicide more than one time, but was only hospitalized for it on one occasion. September is Suicide Awareness Month, so although I've written about my personal experience in The Night God Sat At My Bedside, I wanted to discuss suicide from the perspective of what YOU can do and how to recognize the difference between warning signs and risk factors and the six questions you can ask that could save someone's life.
I've had suicidal ideations as recently as 2016, even though at that time I was in intensive therapy – seeing my therapist.
I've had suicidal ideations as recently as 2016, even though at that time I was in intensive therapy – seeing my therapist 3x a week. I had a supportive husband. Wonderful children. And, amazing grandsons. Yet, I was still in the depths of depression. Not one person outside of my immediate family and my therapist asked me if I was suicidal. One of my daughters actually called my therapist on behalf of the family.
I wonder how many of you personally know someone who has either died by suicide or who has attempted suicide? You may not even realize someone you know and/or love has attempted or has suicidal ideations, but odds are, you do. I personally intervened in a suicide attempt in the late 90s. Many years after my last attempt.
According to a 2017 statistic by the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 800,000 people die from suicide every single year. That’s one death every 40 seconds. In the US more people die every day from suicide than by traffic accidents. It’s staggering to thing about. Imagine the number of people will die by the time you’ve finished reading this. According to Columbia Lighthouse Project that’s more deaths worldwide than war, homicide, and natural disasters combined.
They also report that of the people who die by suicide, nearly 50% had a visit with their primary care provide within a month of their deaths and 25% were seen in the emergency room within the last 12 months before their deaths for a reason that was not related to a psychiatric event.
Close to 16% of high school students have seriously contemplated suicide and almost 10% have attempted (Centers for Disease Control). Suicide is THE LEADING cause of death of adolescent girls (World Health Organization). According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in the US, it's the second leading cause of death for those 10-34. That bears repeating….10 years old! I found some sites that refer to the statistic as 10-24 years, but this is the statistic right from the CDC website. And, according to the WHO it's the second leading cause of death for 15-29 year olds.
Do you know the difference between warning signs and risk factors? People often get the two confused.
- Talks about wanting to die…
- Looks for a way to kill themselves, like searching for ways online or buying a weapon
- Talks about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live…
- Talks about feeling trapped in in unbearable pain whether it’s emotional or physical pain…
- Talks about being a burden to others,..
- Increases the use of alcohol or drugs…
- Acts anxious or agitated; behaves recklessly, like driving too fast…
- Sleeps too little or too much…
- Withdraws from friends and loves ones or feels isolated
- Shows anger or rage or talks about seeking revenge
- Displays extreme mood swings
- Talks about feeling empty, hopeless, or has no reason to live…
- Makes a plan…
- Talks a lot about guilt or shame…
- Talk or things about death often…
- Changes eating habits…
- Gives way important possession…
- Says goodbye to family and friends…
- OR puts affairs in order…
Of these, the only ones that I didn’t say or do were to say goodbye, put my affairs in order, or give away possessions.
Remember that suicide does not discriminate. People of all genders, ages, ethnicities, and employment status are at risk. Women are more likely to attempt suicide, but overall men are more likely to die by suicide because they choose more lethal methods. In other words, a man may use a gun whereas a woman may try sleeping pills and has a greater chance of medical attention that can intervene.
Risk factors include…
- Depression, other mental illnesses, or substance abuse
- Family history of mental illness or substance abuse
- Chronic pain
- A prior suicide attempt
- Family history of suicide
- Family violence – including physical or sexual abuse
- Having access to firearms
- Having recently been released from prison or jail (risk is 3x higher in the US)
- Other legal or criminal problems
- Being between the ages of 15 and 34 or over the age of 60
- Relationship problems
- Financial problems
- Loss of housing
- Crisis in the past two weeks or upcoming two weeks
- Cultural or religious belief that suicide is a noble way out of personal predicament
- Impulsive tendencies
All this said, suicide rates among military veterans is 1 ½ times higher than non-veterans – approximately 20-22 veterans die each day. In 2012 and 2013 more military members died from suicide than in combat (cssrs.columbia.edu).
And, a recent study shows that suicide among veterinarians is higher than the national average with female veterinarians more likely to die than male – which differs from the nation trend. Veterinarians have easy access to lethal medications used euthanize their patients and are using it to kill themselves.
Also, according to a recent study cited on the Trevor Project by the CDC, LGBTQ youth contemplate suicide 3x more frequently than their heterosexual counterparts and 5x more likely to make an actual attempt.
THE SIX QUESTIONS
So, what are these 6 questions?
- Have you wished you were dead or wished you could go to sleep and not wake up?
- Have you actually had any thoughts about killing yourself?
- Have you thought about how you might do this?
- Have you had any intention of acting on these thoughts of killing yourself, as opposed to you have the thoughts but you definitely would not act on them?
- Have you started to work out or worked out the details of how to kill yourself? Do you intend to carry out this plan?
- Have you done anything, started to do anything, or prepared to do anything to end your life?
These questions come from the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale. There’s a little more to it than what I’ve outlined here. Use the link to print out your own universal card that can be used to assess your friend, co-worker, or loved one.
There’s even a questionnaire – that has more than 6 questions for very young children and one for those who are cognitively impaired…using language that they would understand. Look for the cards that say “VERY YOUNG CHILDREN” and “COGNITIVELY IMPAIRED.”
Asking someone if he’s suicidal will not increase his risk of killing himself. This is exactly what I did. And, he told me, “YES!” that he was not only planning, but had already attempted once and failed. Remember though, too, that if someone tells you, “NO” it doesn’t mean they’re always telling you the truth.
Lastly, if you're having thoughts of suicide, reach out to someone or visit my resource page. You'll find ways you can text, call, or chat online for help. Or, call 911.
I promise you, things do get better. They may not be better tomorrow or the next day, but they DO get better and you can't even imagine in your wildest dreams the amazing things that await you. I know though, that telling you isn't enough to believe it, but there are people who are willing to support you until you do.