Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

Did you know about National Suicide Prevention Week? I must confess that I didn’t, except for the fact that I work in an environment that raises awareness about things like this.  In fact, NAMI has expanded it to National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.  Many people are not aware that suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. While it is a high-ranked cause of death in younger people– who,after all, are relatively healthy and unlikely to die from thinks like stroke or heart disease, the rate of suicide is actually higher in older populations. Similarly, while reports of suicidal ideation are high in the 18-25 age group, the older groups have the higher rates of actually attempting suicide.

Regardless of what age group someone might be in, people do give signs that they may be suicidal, and there are things one can do to respond. The first point that I want to emphasize is that it’s better to talk about it than not. The link has a pretty good basic outline of how to help. I want to add a couple of thoughts based on having lost two cousins to suicide as well as having had many suicidal clients and having lost more than a couple.

No matter how lonely, isolated, and alone you may feel, there are people who care.

When I worked with a population of older, socially isolated, mentally ill, addicted, physically ill, poverty-stricken men– an extremely high risk group– every time someone died from suicide, afterwards there were always people who were saying, “If only I had known–” they would have been willing to be there for the person.  If you are the person considering suicide, don’t make the mistake of thinking/hoping people are mind readers.

Getting high is not going to help.

Again, from my work in addiction treatment, there were many people who would become suicidal when they drank or used drugs. The poster child was one client who really suffered more from alcoholism than depression. In fact, he was in treatment for a suicide attempt– jumping out of a window– which occurred in an alcoholic blackout. When he wasn’t drinking, he wasn’t even depressed. Another person I knew jumped out of a sixth floor window (and lived, with minor injuries) while intoxicated.  There are a lot of statistics out there, but I don’t want to go the number-wonk route in describing this. Getting high doesn’t help anybody’s judgment, and it doesn’t take a pack of researchers to verify it. If you’re making a life or death decision, getting twisted on anything won’t help. If you’re trying to get your nerve up to kill yourself, why not get your nerve up to talk to someone? It’s equally hard, sometimes, but…

If you’re in therapy, use your therapist– if not, get a therapist.

Therapists have spent many an hour exploring with people the most basic question of existence– life or death– and are far less inclined to panic when someone talks about suicide. It has famously been called “a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” This is not inevitably true, but  frequently is true. Depression makes it harder to think, and especially hard to see alternatives. Talk it over with someone if you’re thinking about suicide. There is always the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline– (800) 273-8255.



About jamesmatter

Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) in private practice in San Francisco. I work with adults, adolescents, and couples, with focus on substance use and abuse and co-occurring disorders (having both a mental illness and an addiction).
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