How To Help: Suicide Prevention
Trigger Warning: This article methods suicide prevention strategies. If you have been affected by suicide or suicide attempts, discussion of suicide may be a trigger for you. It’s important to approach this topic with caution -- connect with friends or family who can support you to find appropriate community and counseling resources as needed.
Suicide prevention is a sticky subject. It can be difficult to talk about, yet awareness is important. It may have you asking, "what are suicide prevention strategies?"
When looking for how to support suicide prevention or how to help suicide prevention efforts, September is a great month to talk about it since it’s suicide prevention month. What is suicide prevention month? Suicide prevention - what can I do?
Read on to find out answers to all your questions as well as find personal ways to get involved in suicide prevention.
What Is Suicide Prevention Month?
Suicide Prevention Month is a national awareness event. It's a great opportunity to talk with experts and community members about how to prevent suicides in your community.
The following people typically find ways to be vocal and involved:
- Mental health advocates
- Prevention organizations
- Community members
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline shares a message we would like to echo -- #BeThe1To. It just takes one person to:
It might seem like a small act to reach out and check-in, but suicide prevention month is all about bringing attention to how and why those seemingly small acts can be life-saving, literally.
When Is Suicide Prevention Week?
National Suicide Prevention Week occurs on the Monday through Sunday surrounding World Suicide Prevention Day. During this time, people share:
- Prevention strategies
Of course, discussions of suicide should come with a trigger warning. It's important to note that survivors will share their stories in their own time and shouldn’t be pressured into talking about their private experiences.
When Is Suicide Prevention Day?
Suicide Prevention Day is September 10. It's reported that every 40 seconds someone takes their own life. Suicide is the leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 29. It’s the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
It's likely that you or someone you know has been deeply affected by suicide or a suicide attempt(s) -- they tend to have a ripple effect. The impact has the power to change the lives of affected families, friends, coworkers, colleagues, community members, and even societies at large.
Why Suicide Prevention Is Important?
While suicide is a preventable act, it can be difficult to recognize the signs and symptoms that precede it. Suicide prevention is important because it brings awareness to the issues surrounds suicide and arms us with the tools to help reduce suicides worldwide.
Suicide affects us all whether we know it or not, and awareness breeds action while also illuminating mental health issues.
Suicide prevention helps us to address underlying issues and undiagnosed or untreated illness. It helps drive the research and data on suicidal behavior that helps us make breakthroughs and improve prevention efforts.
Suicide Prevention for Veterans
Veterans are often under-served when it comes to delivery of suicide care. There are shortages and blind spots in the system where veterans can slip through the cracks. Safer care needs to be available to this population, as veterans are at a 50% higher risk of suicide than civilians.
Suicide Prevention for Teens
For every suicide, there are many more attempts. Some studies put the ratio as high as 20-40 attempts for every single death. It's hard to comprehend when even one death feels like too many.
Research shows that suicide is the fourth leading cause of death in 15-19 year olds. LGBTQ+ teens are especially at risk, as are those teens exposed to violence. It's incredibly important to identify vulnerable groups and provide them with accessible care.
Common events that trigger suicide attempts for teens may include:
- Relationship break-ups
- Chronic pain or illness
- Life stresses
- Financial pressures
Suicide Prevention for Parents
Suicide and suicidal behavior can inevitably shift a family dynamic. Approaches such as strengthening household finances can create a sense of security and stability. There are many ways families (and parents in particular) can help to prevent suicides and learn the warning signs.
Suicide Prevention for Youth
Half of all mental health conditions start by age 14, yet most cases go undetected and untreated. Diagnosis is a key part of promoting treatment options -- studies show that 80-90% of people respond well when depression is correctly diagnosed, especially in its early stages. Years of youth and adolescence can be exciting and challenging due to unique, formative experiences.
Changes include psychical, emotional, and social shifts in growth. Mental health can take a devastating blow when poverty, abuse, violence, or other negative environments enter the picture. It's important that our youth learn the skills they need to maintain healthy physical and mental habits that they can carry with them into adulthood.
Eating disorders especially may surface at this time. Other risk factors include abuse, alcohol, and the stigma against asking for help. Communication through the digital media available to this age group is of particular concern, especially in recent years.
Suicide in Older Adults
Sadly, suicide is most common between the ages of 45 and 64 years. Like the youth and teen years, older adulthood is fraught with periods of change. Empty nesters, widowers, and care facility residents are just some of the vulnerable populations that can benefit from connection.
Suicide Prevention in the Workplace
The workplace environment and culture can either contribute to good mental health or contribute to poor mental health. It’s important to put in place measures that fortify colleagues with mental health conditions. Work that is both interesting and fulfilling can reduce potential stressors and risk factors.
Suicide Prevention - What Can I Do
In recent decades suicide rates have risen to the point that it’s now considered a prominent public health issue. Simple prevention strategies help suicide shed its stigma and assist in averting serious tragedy.
We love the way that the Suicide Prevention Resource Center puts it:
"Effective suicide prevention is comprehensive: it requires a combination of efforts that work together to address different aspects of the problem."
The Three Most Effective Suicide Prevention Strategies
The following strategies are considered the most effective in reducing suicide rates and mediating suicide risk.
1. Call A Crisis Hotline
You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). A call might seem too simple, but the helpline fields over 2 million calls a year to keep people safe.
Connecting with a caller helps them to feel understood and cared for, something we all need in life. Even though they have been around since the 1950s, it’s been only recently that scientists have been able to measure their success. Researchers report that suicidality subside, feelings of hopelessness cease, and psychological pain is diminished.
2. Support Standard Mental Health Care
Even as global numbers of suicides have decreased, it's been difficult to define a drop in the United States rate. One of the major roadblocks is a lack of access to reliable interventions.
Experts say that while effective treatments are available, there is a lack of community, access, and availability. Follow-up is also another preventative measure that has only recently been studied.
About 80% of call centers, even with limited resources, now make an effort to follow-up within a day or two. It makes a difference -- 80% of callers say that the follow-up call played a role in saving their life.
It just goes to show that accessible and available care can save lives. However, one phone call can solve all of life's problems. Accessible mental health care is considered a key to breaking the cycle of suicidality.
Not every method of prevention works for everyone. Risk can be reduced by helping expand treatment options:
Acute (Immediate or Emergency) Risk
- In-depth psychiatric evaluation & same-day treatment
- Inpatient treatment as necessary
- Evaluation within one week
- Referral to outpatient therapy
- Provide structure & standard of care
- Connect with clinicians on a regular basis to develop a "safety plan"
Especially when a patient returns home from a psychiatric facility, there is a shift to increased risk. It’s important not only to establish initial care, but continual care and follow-up efforts or evaluations.
Studies during the COVID-19 pandemic showed that even during lockdown there are many preventative measures that can be made available, including:
- Pharmacological and psychological treatment of mental health disorders
- Proper follow-up and chain of care
- Telemedicine and other digital means
A concerted effort where the scientific community, health care professionals, politicians, and decision-makers are all communicating can systematically decrease the suicide risk of society.
Timing is everything when it comes to suicide prevention. Actively and proactively reaching out, especially after psychiatric discharge or a suicidal crisis, is key to preventing suicidal behavior. Instead of being obsessed with helping at the perfect or “right” time, you can learn about risk factors and signs that will help you know how to spot someone in trouble.
3. Help Restrict Lethal Means
Lethal methods of suicide can be reduced or regulated in order to see a drop in suicide numbers. This is often considered as a last line of defense or a national prevention plan when a country sees numbers rise to an alarming level.
For example, in Asia, toxic pesticides were commonly used in self-poisoning between the years 1950-1995. It was estimated that pesticide self-poisoning causes 300,000 deaths annually.
However, Sri Lanka implemented regulations on pesticides starting in the mid-1980s. By 2005, there was a 50% decrease in the death rate from self-poisoning. Consequently, Sri Lanka saw one of the greatest drops in suicide rate -- in fact, overall suicide rate began to drop.
Similarly, in July of 2019 Hawaii became the 17th state to pass what is called a "red flag" law. This allows family members or qualified professionals to petition a court for temporary removal of firearms from people in the case that the individual is believed to be a risk to themselves or others. These tactics show promise and can be a significant step in preventing suicide.
With these three methods, respect, empathy, and rapport allow for overall progress in exploring alternatives to suicide. Learning to deal with crises and reaching out to people who can help are key points to focus on during tense moments.
Things You Can Do Today To Help
Ready to contribute to suicide prevention? We thought you might be! As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, "All sectors can play an important role in preventing suicide."
Here's a list of things you can do to help today. Pick one of the following activities to get involved in the cause!
- Recognize risk factors (i.e. economic downturn)
- Remove barriers to accessing health care
- Address inappropriate media reporting (i.e. speculation or sensationalizing)
- Learn about legislation concerning economic and social inequalities, welfare measures, health care accessibility, national prevention programs, etc.
- Teach effective response protocol for individuals in crisis (i.e. education services at schools and other organizations)
- Engage in making the full continuum of care more effective (i.e. hotlines, helplines, mobile crisis teams, walk-in clinics, emergency services, support groups)
- Provide for postvention plan(a set of protocols for helping in response to a suicide death), both immediately and in the long-term
- Install barriers on bridges as a way to reduce access to means of suicide
- Support social connection in the community, especially for vulnerable populations (i.e. older adults, LGBT youth)
- Reduce provider shortages in under-served areas
- Enact policies to reduce excessive alcohol use and create a protective environment
- Send postcards to staff
- Make rehabilitation options available
- Ensure employee access to effective mental health care, suicide care, and treatment
- Cover mental health conditions in health insurance policies
- Improve organizational policies and workplace culture
- Support safe care transitions and create organizational links (i.e. continuity of care, formal referral protocol, interagency agreements, cross-training)
- Provide for a compassionate and effective postvention plan to support those bereaved by suicide
- Actively encourage an enhancement of life skills and resilience
- Lessen risk with safe reporting and messaging about suicide
- Learn how to prevent suicide in your specific place of work by using the field-specific Preventing Suicide guides by the World Health Organization
- Support effective mental health care (i.e. telemedicine)
- Find digital tools/resources to share with an affected friend or family member
- Teach warning signs to family members so they can help identify or assist someone they know who is at risk to find help
- Encourage your loved ones to seek help and then help them find resources
- Safely store medications, firearms, etc. as a way to reduce access to means of suicide
- Teach and model healthy coping and problem-solving skills
- Attend parenting skill and family relationship programs
- Reduce exposure to violence
- Check in on someone during a transition in their care
- Get involved in a local prevention program
- Learn warning signs that can help you to identity and assist someone at risk
- Recognize when you need help
- Promote connectedness among your peers
- Engage in community activities and programs
The Bottom Line on Preventing Suicides
A survey reported that 93% of Americans think suicide can be prevented -- yet, so many of us feel helpless and wonder how to create real change. Starting today, use one of these tips to reach out as an individual. Tomorrow, your action could have a positive impact on your friends, family, community, and even the world!
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide Prevention (Prevention Strategies). Cdc.gov. Accessed September 2021.
Columbia University Department of Psychiatry. Which Suicide Prevention Strategies Work? Columbiapsychiatry.org. Published February 18, 2021.
Miller G. Three suicide prevention strategies show real promise. How can they reach more people? Science.org. Published august 22, 2019.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Promote National Suicide Prevention Month. Suicidepreventionlifeline.org. Accessed September 2021.
National Today. World Suicide Prevention Day - September 10, 2021. Nationaltoday.com. Accessed September 2021.
Suicide Prevention Resource Center. A Comprehensive Approach to Suicide Prevention. Sprc.org. Published 2020-2021.
Wasserman D, Iosue M, Wuestefeld A, Carli V. Adaptation of evidence-based suicide prevention strategies during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. World Psychiatry. 2020;19(3):294-306. doi:10.1002/wps.20801
World Health Organization. Suicide prevention. Who.int. Accessed September 2021.