Preventing Suicide Through Public Health

preventing suicide

Suicide is a complex issue surrounded by myths and taboos. A comprehensive public health approach is needed to decrease suicide rates.

Parents and teachers are often the first to recognize dramatic changes in kids and teens that could indicate a need for mental health evaluation and intervention. This includes sudden withdrawal from friends, a change in sleep patterns, and interest in weapons or obtaining drugs/pills.

1. Know the Warning Signs

Suicide is often a response to feelings of hopelessness or helplessness and is a symptom of treatable mental health disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia and substance use disorder. Typically, people who take their own lives exhibit certain warning signs, which you can recognize through what they say and do.

These may include:

Talking about suicide or expressing a desire to die. Having previously made a suicide attempt. Having a family history of depression or other mental health problems. Searching for ways to kill themselves or accessing lethal items in the home (including firearms, medications and a variety of other methods).

If you know someone who is showing any of these warning signs, don’t dismiss it. Listen to them, talk about it and help them find help.

2. Talk to a Friend

It’s always better to reach out to someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts than trying to keep the problem secret. Ask the person directly if they are having thoughts of suicide and listen attentively. If they do say yes, then it’s important to find out more information, such as how they would kill themselves and when. Also, find out if they have made a plan or have access to the means to carry out their plans.

Try not to argue with the person or make them feel guilty. Be direct, but calm and reassuring. If the threat is imminent, don’t hesitate to call emergency services or drive them to the hospital yourself. Also, follow-up with them to see how they are doing. You can even offer to help them find a therapist if they are not willing to do it themselves.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

Suicide is a complicated issue that requires professional intervention. But the stigma surrounding mental disorders and suicide makes it difficult for people to seek help. The first step is raising awareness about the problem and breaking down the taboo about talking about it openly.

Experts say the most effective way to help someone is to listen and show that you care. You can also ask if they are thinking of killing themselves and remove or disable the lethal means, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Studies have shown that when a person is trying to kill themselves, restricting access to highly lethal objects and disabling their ability to do so significantly reduces their risk. That’s why it is important to know the warning signs and take them seriously.

4. Don’t Make Deals

While young people are much more open to talking about mental health issues, they still face significant stigma. Fortunately, medical professionals are working to change that.

Providing Technical Support to Communities

Research shows that people at risk for suicide can be effectively identified and directed to care with a whole-of-government approach. To help, CDC has published new resources including a Suicide Prevention Resource for Action that provides step-by-step process tools for community-led suicide prevention efforts.

Reducing a person’s access to lethal means of suicide is one of the most effective suicide prevention strategies. Sadly, many of the most common methods of suicide are also the least well known. Restricting firearms or reducing access to over-the-counter medication, for example, can reduce suicide rates dramatically. But this is only possible if you know the warning signs and can take action.

5. Be Safe

Suicide is a risk factor for everyone, but the good news is that it is also preventable. It starts with knowing the warning signs and stepping up to help a friend when they are at risk.

Be there for them, which could mean being physically present or talking on the phone. Ask them about their thoughts and feelings and be nonjudgmental. Don’t make deals that include agreeing to keep suicide a secret or not tell others. Reducing access to lethal means (including drugs and weapons) can also make a difference.

Feeling connected to other people is a protective factor against suicide, so spend time with friends and family. Attend religious and cultural events and participate in your community. Getting help for mental health problems is also important.