Suicide is a major public health issue that leads to almost 37,000 deaths each year in the United States.
According to Pamela Hyde, the director of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, that statistic translates to 100 people every 24 hours. As National Suicide Prevention Week comes to a close today, it is important to remind ourselves of the facts of suicide and to increase our comfort engaging in conversations with loved ones about suicide.
Depression and substance abuse are treatable conditions that increase the risk of suicide. In fact, one of the most serious and life-threatening symptoms of depression is suicidal ideation and impulses.
Not everyone who is depressed is suicidal, but many people who go on to kill themselves have been struggling with depression that seems bleak and never ending or are experiencing a recent loss that feels devastating. The person may feel hopeless, have trouble getting through each day and feel that the depression and emotional pain will never stop.
The idea of going for psychological help or seeing a physician to talk about the depression may also seem worthless or hopeless or not even enter into the thinking of a person who is depressed.
They may not know how treatable depression is or may not be aware of services available on campus or in the community.
For that reason, family, friends, clergy, physicians and teachers can play an important role in identifying those who seem depressed and can intervene to help them find the psychological help that they need.
Don’t be afraid to ask, “Do you sometimes feel so bad that you think of suicide?”
Many people have considered suicide, however fleetingly, at one time or another. There is no danger in “giving someone the idea.” In fact, it can be a great relief if you bring the question of suicide into the open and to discuss it freely without showing shock or disapproval.
Raising the question of suicide shows that you are taking the person seriously and responding to the potential danger of his/her distress.
If the answer is yes, take it seriously and follow it through.
You must ask: “Have you thought about how you might do it? Do you have the means? Have you decided when or under what circumstances you would take your life? Have you ever attempted suicide before?”
If the person has a definite plan, if the means are available, if the method is available and the time is set, the risk of suicide is very high. Your response will be geared to the urgency of the situation as you see it.
It is vital to not underestimate the danger by not asking for details or assuming the person isn’t serious. Your actions could save a life.
Some important phone numbers for crisis assistance include: the National Suicide Prevention Line at 800-273-TALK and the Centre County CAN HELP Line, 800-643-5432
Penn State students can receive counseling and crisis services at the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services at 863-0395.
If you are afraid that someone is in immediate danger and seconds count, call 911.
If you have lost a loved one to suicide, you may want to attend the local program of the International Survivors of Suicide Day sponsored by the Central Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at noon Nov. 17 at the Match Factory in Bellefonte.
Mary Anne Knapp is a clinical social worker and staff therapist with Penn State’s Counseling and Psychological Services (http://studentaffairs. psu.edu/counseling).