September is Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month
Trigger warning: This article mentions suicide, suicidal ideation, abuse, mental illness, and drug addiction. Reader discretion is advised. If you or a loved one are experiencing thoughts of suicide, please call 800-273-8255. This article should not be substituted for professional medical advice.
This month is Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. While society has gotten better at being more open about mental illness, suicide is still a widely stigmatized topic. But, many people are affected by suicide. Suicide comes in tenth place for causes of death in the United States, and third place for causes of death for people college-aged per the SAVE organization. Many people feel uncomfortable and/or like they do not know how to help people who have suicidal thoughts. There are ways to help people struggling with suicidal ideation without being a trained mental health professional.
Some people may be confused as to why people feel suicidal. There are many risk factors for suicide, including a previous suicide attempt, having a family member or close friend die by suicide, having a history of mental illness and/or drug addiction, living in poverty, being the victim of bullying, and living with a chronic illness. Some warning signs of suicidal behavior in a person include, but are not limited to: talking about feeling like there’s nothing to live for, talking away ways to end their life, losing interest in things like hobbies, abusing drugs as a way to self-medicate, extreme mood swings, giving away possessions, and/or not being interested in planning for the future. Helping a suicidal person receive the medical care that they need is a very delicate process. Start by gently, but clearly, asking them how they are feeling. Listen to them with sympathy and do not judge or criticize what they are saying. Ask them if they have a plan to end their life. If they say yes, it is very crucial to seek immediate help. Take the person to an inpatient or crisis unit of a behavioral health center or an emergency room. The person who is feeling suicidal is in a very dark place, so, remember to offer as much support as you can.
There are many resources available for emergency situations like these. These include, but are not limited to, the National Suicide Prevention Line: 800-273-8255, Crisis Text Line: text “HOME,” to 741741, The NAMI helpline: (National Association on Mental Illness) 800-950-NAMI, and Mental Health America: text “MHA,” to 741741. Certain groups of people are at more risk of having suicidal thoughts, including LBGT+ people, victims of domestic violence, people experiencing postpartum depression, veterans, and victims of sexual assault. This is due to the trauma and/or discrimination that these people have experienced. The hotlines that help these groups of people are The Trevor Project: 866-488-7386, Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7273, Postpartum Support International: 800-944-4773, Veterans Crisis Line: 800-273-8255, and RAINN: (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) 800-656-4673. Anyone can experience suicidal thoughts. Suicidal ideation does not discriminate.
Our university has resources and help for suicide. The crisis line at the Health and Counseling Center is: 512-863-6511 and is open 24/7. Southwestern’s police department crisis number is 512-863-1944. Williamson County has the Williamson County Crisis Line at 800-841-1255, and the Travis County Crisis Line is 512-472-4357. In cases of drug or alcohol overdose, our university has a “good samaritan policy” in which students who receive help on campus for an overdose will not be penalized. The student organization, caller, or people surrounding the person who is experiencing an overdose will not be penalized either.
In some cultures, men are encouraged not to show negative emotions, unless it is through anger or violence. Some ideas in society teach that men should not show that they are feeling sad, insecure, or anxious because showing emotions is considered weak or only reserved for women and girls. This idea is very damaging, as many men repress their emotions and do not get the proper mental health care until it is too late. I urge men to show empathy with their male friends when their friends open up to them about how they are feeling. I urge society to not shame men when they are showing emotion, and instead, encourage them to express how they are feeling. Doing so will help create a culture in which people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts do not feel alone.
At a less individual level, we as a society can help prevent society in ways that do not include only giving out hotline numbers. Suicide prevention can look like contacting people to see how they are feeling, instead of waiting for them to contact you. Often, people who are feeling very depressed do not reach out to others.
Additionally, suicide prevention looks like validating that mental illness is real and that it is a chemical imbalance in one’s brain and/or caused by trauma. There are many people who never get help because they have been told that their mental illness is not real. Some end up dying by suicide.
Another one is to not cyberbully each other nor bully in real life, per the CDC. Bullying has devastating consequences to someone’s mental health. More include offering a space in which people feel comfortable to say how they are really feeling, educating oneself and others about suicide, and knowing resources in your community that can help a loved one.
Suicide prevention also looks like things that one may not always expect when considering this topic. Suicide prevention means helping people’s lives be the best they can, so they are less likely to consider suicide. This includes more funding to social services that help alleviate people from societal ills such as poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, classism, ableism, and disaster. It also includes trauma-informed care, meaning that people who are in positions of helping suicidal people are educated and trained on how to respond to trauma. Additionally, affordable housing and healthcare are considered suicide prevention, because homeless people are at more risk for suicide, and people who can receive adequate healthcare are less likely to become in crisis.
Making protections for people with disabilities in the workplace and in school is suicide prevention, as people who are able to keep a job and be able to be in school with accommodations are more likely to have resources that are available to them.
Last but not least, including the voices of historically ignored demographics in research on mental illness helps reduce suicide, as researchers who study these populations are more likely to be able to know how to help suicidal people.
Over 47,500 people in 2019 in the United States died by suicide, according to the National Institute on Mental Health. Additionally, “[a]mong adults across all age groups, the prevalence of serious suicidal thoughts was highest among young adults aged 18-25 (11.8%)” according to the National Institute on Mental Health. Suicide is a very important and serious topic for people college-aged. Educating yourself and others about it could save your life or the life of a loved one. For ways to get directly involved with suicide prevention, you can volunteer with any of the aforementioned organizations of the hotline numbers listed.