Bill* (not his real name) was 17 when he died.
We were in class when I found out. A girlfriend said that she had seen his obituary in the papers. He had jumped off an apartment block just a few days ago. Shocked, we decided, as a class, to pay our last respects.
To this day, I remember Bill’s blue lips in his open casket. My girlfriend turned away, mumbling how he was in a better place to his parents before sobbing furiously. I couldn’t comfort her. Bill and her shared the same faith. She didn’t believe that by taking his own life, Bill would go to heaven.
I vowed to myself that I would be a better friend to my friends from then on. I didn’t know Bill very well. He was quiet and kept to himself. For a long time after, I often wondered to myself: what if one of us had sought him out and checked in on him?
Suicides in the US
According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide rates have increased by 30% since 1999. Nearly 45,000 lives were lost to suicide in 2016, the number increasing to 47173 in 2017. There were 1.4 million suicide attempts in the latter year. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US. On average, there are 129 suicides per day.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) notes that suicide ranks as the second leading cause of death for the 10-14 year old age group, accounting for 425 deaths annually and surpassing the death rate for traffic accidents, which is the most common cause of death for young people.
This month of May is Mental Health Awareness month. Let’s dispel the myths surrounding suicide and help prevent it.
It is not true that those who complete suicide suffer from mental illness. Research has found that 54% of people who died by suicide did not have a known mental health condition. A number of other things may put someone at risk of suicide, including:
- A family history of suicide.
- Substance abuse.Drugs and alcohol can result in mental highs and lows that exacerbate suicidal thoughts.
- Intoxication. More than one in three people who die from suicide were found to be under the influence.
- Access to firearms.
- A serious or chronic medical illness.
- Gender. Although more women than men attempt suicide, men are four times more likely to die by suicide.
- A history of trauma or abuse.
- Prolonged stress.
- Age.People under age 24 or above age 65 are at a higher risk for suicide.
- A recent tragedy or loss.
- Agitation and/or sleep deprivation.
Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness
It is not true that talking about suicide will give someone the idea to complete suicide. Studies have shown that asking people about suicidal thoughts and behavior does not induce or increase such thoughts and experiences. In fact, asking someone directly, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” could be the best way to identify someone at risk for suicide.
What Are the Warning Signs for Suicide?
- Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves.
- Talking about feeling empty or hopeless.
- Planning or looking for a way to kill themselves, such as researching online, stockpiling pills, or newly acquiring potentially lethal items such as firearms or a ropes.
- Talking about great guilt or shame.
- Talking about feeling trapped or feeling that there are no solutions.
- Feeling unbearable pain, both physical or emotional.
- Talking about being a burden to others.
- Using alcohol or drugs more often.
- Acting anxious or agitated.
- Withdrawing from family and friends.
- Changing eating and/or sleeping habits.
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
- Taking risks that could lead to death, such as reckless driving.
- Talking or thinking about death often.
- Displaying extreme mood swings, suddenly changing from very sad to very calm.
- Giving away important possessions.
- Saying goodbye to friends and family.
- Putting affairs in order like making a will.
Source: the NIMH
How can You Prevent Suicide?
If someone is telling you that they are going to kill themselves, do not leave him/her alone. Do not promise him/her that you will keep their suicidal thoughts a secret.
- Calmly ask simple and direct questions, such as “Can I help you call your psychiatrist?”
- Remove means such as guns, knives or stockpiled pills.
- Talk openly and honestly about suicide. Don’t be afraid to ask questions such as “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” or “Do you have a plan for how you would kill yourself?”
- If there are multiple people, have one person speak at a time.
- Ask what you can do to help.
- Don’t argue or raise your voice.
- Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong.
- If your loved one asks for something, provide it, as long as the request is safe and reasonable.
Do contact the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 – 800 – 273 – TALK (8255), or text the Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals can contact the Lifeline via TTY at 1 – 800 -799 – 4889. All calls are confidential.
Let us all do our bit.