September 9, 2023

From Despair to Hope: Suicide Prevention Strategies

By Sarah Bemish, APRN; Jennifer DeLorme, LICSW, & Chelsey Tower

September is Suicide Awareness Month. Death by suicide is an alarming and escalating issue that demands our attention. Recent data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention paints a grim picture: 48,183 individuals lost their lives to suicide in 2021 alone, translating to approximately one suicide every 11 minutes. Countless others wrestled with the idea, exploring it as a potential escape. These figures are stark reminders of the urgency to disseminate knowledge, stepping in to prevent and diminish the number of individuals who perceive suicide as their only recourse.

Who is at risk of suicide?

Suicide doesn't discriminate based on age. Notably, it ranks as the second leading cause of death among individuals aged 10-34, while those aged 85 and older exhibit the highest suicide rates. Gender-wise, males are more prone to suicide than females. Prolonged periods of intense stress amplify the likelihood of suicidal thoughts, and this is particularly evident among first responders, military personnel, and veterans. The convergence of stress factors—sleep deprivation, social isolation, life upheavals, and poor nutrition and physical health—further escalates the suicide risk.

A frequent coping mechanism involves turning to substances to manage stress or pre-existing mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and mood irregularities. Paradoxically, these substances, whether in active use or during withdrawal, can exacerbate suicidal inclinations.

How can we help to decrease risk?

Recognition is pivotal. Often, those contemplating suicide drop hints, mentioning self-harm, death, or suicide explicitly. Expressions like "I want to end it all" or the quest for methods to terminate life should be taken seriously. Indirect signs include feelings of hopelessness, entrapment, or purposelessness, increased alcohol or substance use, social withdrawal, sleep disturbances, and mood fluctuations.

Engaging in conversation matters. Contrary to popular belief, directly inquiring about someone's suicidal thoughts doesn't escalate their risk—it can make them feel noticed and cared for, potentially deterring them from their plan. Sometimes, offering companionship and empathy can be more impactful than providing solutions.

Problem-solving often helps. Suicide doesn't stem from a solitary cause; rather, it's a complex combination of factors. While certain stressors can't be eliminated, strategies to reduce exposure to stress are invaluable. Incorporating daily exercise, confiding in someone, allocating personal time, and prioritizing sleep can alleviate overwhelming feelings. Formulating a safety plan, complete with an emergency/crisis contact, anxiety-reducing activities, and safe spaces, can provide practical solutions. Whenever feasible, restricting access to means of suicide is essential.

Finally, extend hope. Even the slightest glimmer that difficulties are transitory, coupled with the understanding that support and care exist, can be life-saving.

What resources are available?

Resources are available for individuals grappling with suicidal thoughts. Community connections are crucial—primary care providers, school counselors, and mental health specialists can help. Peer and survivor groups, accessible through the National Alliance for Mental Illness, can offer support. This organization also offers invaluable guides for addressing suicide with children, family members post-attempt, individuals who have attempted suicide, and healthcare providers.

In the face of escalating suicide rates, proactive measures rooted in recognition, open dialogue, stress reduction, safety planning, and instilling hope can collectively make a difference. Through these efforts, we can work towards a world where fewer individuals feel driven to the brink and more are equipped to find the support they need to navigate their darkest moments.

Resources for Support

National Suicide and Crisis Lifelines:

    • 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline – Call or text 988 which is available 24/7

    • TTY 800-799-4889 – for those hard of hearing

    • En Español 1-888-628-9454

Crisis Text LineText HOME to 741741 in the US (National Alliance for Mental Illness, 2023).

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals

Support for Veterans: Veterans and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Support for deaf and hard of hearing individuals is available.

Crisis Text Line: Free, 24/7 support for those in crisis. Text 741741 from anywhere in the US to text with a trained Crisis Counselor.

Trans Lifeline: Call 1-877-565-8860 for a hotline staffed by transgender people for transgender people. Trans Lifeline volunteers are ready to respond to whatever support needs community members might have.

Disaster Distress Helpline: Call 1-800-985-5990 for a 24/7 national hotline dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster.

The Trevor Project: A national 24-hour, toll free confidential suicide hotline for LGBTQ youth. If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgment-free place to talk, call 1-866-488-7386 to connect with a trained counselor.

The LGBT National Help Center: Call 1-888-843-4564. Open to callers of all ages. Provides peer-counseling, information, and local resources.

 

References

Cams Care: Preventing Suicide. (2023). New Hampshire Suicide Prevention. Retrieved from: cams-care.com/state-statistics/new-hampshire/

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023). Suicide Data and Statistics. Retrieved from: www.cdc.gov/suicide/suicide-data-statistics.html

International Association for Suicide Prevention. (2022). Suicidal Crisis Support. Retrieved from: www.iasp.info/suicidalthoughts/

National Alliance for Mental Illness. (2023). Managing Stress. Retrieved from: www.nami.org/Your-Journey/Individuals-with-Mental-Illness/Taking-Care-of-Your-Body/Managing-Stress

National Alliance for Mental Illness. (2023). Suicide Prevention. Retrieved from: www.naminh.org/suicide-prevention/

New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. (2023). Suicide Prevention Counsel. Retrieved from: www.dhhs.nh.gov/about-dhhs/advisory-organizations/suicide-prevention-council


 

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