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Suicide is a heavy topic to bring up in any conversation. That’s why it is often relegated to news reports, statistics, and suicide prevention programs. But maybe now is the time for people to break the silence on the topic. As the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reported in 2016, suicide rates have been rising across the United States, and is now the 10th leading cause of death in the country. In Virginia, suicide ranks 11th among the most likely causes of death, with 1,166 deaths recorded in the state over the past year.

What is even sadder is the fact that suicide is not picky with its targets. Suicides occur across the country, irrespective of the person’s age, gender, race, social standing, or financial status. As an example of this, the AFSP report shows that, in Virginia, suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 15-34; the fourth leading cause of death in people aged 35-54; the 8th leading cause of death in people aged 55-64; and the 16th leading cause of death in people aged 65 and older. Furthermore, research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that less than half of the people who committed suicide were diagnosed with mental illnesses, which means people without mental illnesses were more likely to kill themselves, making this issue ever more pressing.

What, then, can you do to prevent this tragedy from reaching the people around you? Here are a few options:

Spot the Warning Signs

People who are thinking of committing suicide more often than not have heavy problems on their minds, and usually these thoughts can manifest as subtle hints or signs that they may project subconsciously. More often than not, people who have suicidal thoughts try their best to keep this a secret from the people around them – this is why the people whose friends might find “happy” or “contented” are the ones who end up committing suicide. Knowing and being able to recognising these signs is a crucial step that can set the people you care about on the direction to proper help and guidance. If you notice these signs in someone you know, it may be time to get help. Here are some of the most common:

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated, or behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Extreme mood swings

(Source: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline)

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Know the Risk Factors

As found in the CDC’s research, mental illness is not a major indicator of whether or not a person will commit suicide. It does, however, belong to a list of risk factors that can increase the possibility that a person will consider killing themselves. It should be noted that the following risk factors cannot actually predict if a person will commit suicide, but they are still helpful to know and be aware of as they can lead to the person showing some of the warning signs mentioned earlier:

  • Mental disorders, particularly mood disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and certain personality disorders
  • Alcohol and other substance use disorders
  • Hopelessness
  • Impulsive and/or aggressive tendencies
  • History of trauma or abuse
  • Major physical illnesses
  • Previous suicide attempt(s)
  • Family history of suicide
  • Job or financial loss
  • Loss of relationship(s)
  • Easy access to lethal means
  • Local clusters of suicide
  • Lack of social support and sense of isolation
  • Stigma associated with asking for help
  • Lack of healthcare, especially mental health and substance abuse treatment

Cultural and religious beliefs, such as the belief that suicide is a noble resolution of a personal dilemma

Exposure to others who have died by suicide (in real life or via the media and Internet)

(Source: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline)

Take Action

If you feel that a friend or a loved one may be considering suicide, you should act fast to ensure this doesn’t happen. The #BeThe1To Movement has five steps that you can take to reach out to the person in need:

  1. ASK: The best way to reach out to a person who you think is feeling suicidal is to ask them, “Are you thinking about suicide?” Show the person that you want to listen to them and that you want them to open up to you about their feelings and emotions.
  1. KEEP THEM SAFE: As much as you can, you have to try to prevent them from committing suicide. Ask them if they have attempted to commit suicide before, or if they otherwise have any plans of how to do it. It is important to know how the person is planning suicide so you can determine how much danger the person could be in. If you find that the person is very likely to commit suicide, you may have to take extra steps to ensure their safety, like calling the police or taking them to the hospital.
  1. BE THERE: If there is anything a suicidal person needs, it is another person who is there for them. If a person is considering suicide, do your best to support them in any way you can. Try to be there physically if possible; otherwise, talking to them through other means can work as well.
  1. HELP THEM CONNECT: It can be very helpful for someone considering suicide to be able to connect with support groups, like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or a therapist that you might know, and emergency services like your local hospital or police department. Help them to get quick access to these services so they always have someone that they can call in case of an emergency.
  1. FOLLOW UP: Connecting the person to the appropriate support groups is not the end of your job. You should still try to be a source of support for the person – give them a call or communicate with them every now and then. Make sure you still maintain your connection with the person so they can still feel your support through their current state and beyond.

If you feel that you yourself have suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or your local suicide hotline and get help as soon as possible.