As a new monthly column author, I am certain we will share many lighthearted topics along the way, but for my first column I am compelled to write about a topic at top of mind for me personally right now, suicide prevention.
My life is a life impacted by suicide. Recently, the 16-year-old son of a friend from college died by suicide and, honestly, I am struggling with the emotions that accompany my grief for my friend’s family.
Like many of you, I have known several people within my circle who have attempted and who have died by suicide. So many in our society have experienced the fountain of sorrow that springs from suicide or know someone who has experienced the potency of these paralyzing feelings. It may be hard to talk about and even harder to understand. While suicide is preventable, it is much more common than we care to admit.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, each year, more than 48,000 individuals take their own life, leaving behind thousands of friends and family members to navigate the tragedy of their loss. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among adults in the U.S. and the second leading cause of death of people between the ages 10 and 34. There is one death by suicide in the U.S. every 12 minutes. Nearly 800,000 people die by suicide in the world each year, which is roughly one death every 40 seconds.
As we approach one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, I cannot help but think about the struggles and challenges we have all experienced. Increased isolation and uncertainty have brought on many changes to our daily lives and certainly on our emotions. Government overreach has closed business, schools, extracurricular activities and even our ability to visit our loved ones. Suicide risk increases with rising unemployment, substance abuse, and mental risk factors. All of which have been intensified because of the reaction to the pandemic. Risk factors like depression, isolation, domestic violence, neglect, and hopelessness are often hard to recognize.
Some sources have reported a rise in suicide from the start of the pandemic, but the assumption is not a replacement for evidence. It is said that the largest increase in suicides is of those aged 18 to 24 – young people who have the world ahead of them.
Identifying the warning signs is not always easy and let me be honest, the warning signs are not always there! Some early warning signs may include threats or comments about killing oneself, increased alcohol or drug use, aggressive behavior, social withdrawal, dramatic mood swings, preoccupation with death and impulsive or reckless behavior. Help is available for those experiencing these emotions.
Suicidal thoughts or behaviors are both damaging and dangerous and are therefore considered a psychiatric emergency. Someone experiencing those thoughts should seek immediate assistance from a health or mental health care provider.
Do not allow those around you to suffer in silence. Have the tough conversations. Friendships and personal relationships can be repaired, even when prideful, but this is only true while we are still living.
I can assure you that there is no finality or peace for the family, friends and community impacted by suicide. Perhaps the most damning trait of suicide is its contagious nature. When one sees another give up the fight, a seed is planted somewhere deep inside one’s brain. There is a toxic chemistry to these negative emotions that sometimes require professional counterbalances to overcome. This, too, is part of the struggle in talking about this subject.
Every struggle is different and asking for help is not a weakness. If you or someone you know is exhibiting warning signs of suicide, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 offers free, confidential crisis counseling 24/7/365 – and you do not have to be in crisis to call. Please know you are not alone.