Just because September is over, it doesn’t mean that we should stop talking about suicide awareness or stop posting about it on Instagram. Suicide is a year-round issue–and the cause of death of approximately 44,965 Americans a year.
There is no denying that there have been major improvements in the way that we see mental health issues and how we react to them; however, there are still hundreds of people dying daily by suicide, and that’s just in America.
The History of Suicide Awareness Month in the U.S.
Suicide Awareness Month was started in 1975, on September 10th (which is also known as National Suicide Awareness Day), but steps towards the prevention of suicide had already been taken years before. In 1958, the first suicide prevention center opened its doors in Los Angeles, California. This inspired similar facilities to open up all around the country, thus being one of the first major steps in that field.
In 1970, The National Institute of Mental Health, previously known as the Center for Studies of Suicide, created a suicide prevention task force in Phoenix, Arizona. Its purpose was to gather information about how suicide prevention was being handled, to be presented in 1973. Ten years later, the CDC convened a violence prevention unit to bring light to the disturbing increase in youth suicide rates.
During the mid-1990s, Congress passed two Congressional Resolutions; one that recognized the importance of suicide prevention as a national priority, and the second declaring that suicide was a real, unsolved problem. This was due to the campaigning of citizens and numerous grassroots organizations occurring country-wide. Soon after in 1999, a conference was held in Reno, Nevada detailing the ways we can help suicidal individuals and how to address the problem in a way that can both lower suicide rates and assist suicidal people to recover. A surgeon named Daniel Satcher wrote a document on suicide with the core point being ‘AIM’–Awareness, Intervention, and Methodology, which was presented at the Reno Conference.
In 2001, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline was created by an organization titled SAMHSA, otherwise known as Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services. In October, 2011, the lifeline answered it’s 30 millionth call.
Signs Someone is Thinking of Suicide
*Please note that I am not a licensed therapist or medical professional, but I have done a lot of research for this article.
Everyone is different in how they reach out about their mental health, but there are a few key things to look for if you think someone is contemplating suicide or has already made the decision. Has someone you know started talking about their suicide? Have they started withdrawing from others, including loved ones and friends? Even something small, like unexpected calls or visits, can indicate that they are about to take their life.
Giving away prized possessions is also a telltale sign of someone about to commit suicide. It could be anything, as long as you know it’s important to them. If you notice someone unexpectedly getting their affairs in order, such as writing a will, reach out to them. Make sure they aren’t doing it for any reason relating to their suicide.
In our generation (Generation Z), joking about death and suicide is extremely common, but if you overhear someone who usually doesn’t joke about things like that start talking about it more (no matter how offhand it seems), keep an eye out for any of the other signs I’ve listed. Saying things like, ‘I want to die,’ or ‘I wish I were dead,’ has been normalized by the increase of depression rates in youth. If they start displaying other signs, tell someone or reach out to them yourself.
If someone is presenting unexpected self-destructive behaviour like skipping class, staying out late, getting into trouble, drinking, using drugs, or otherwise acting recklessly, they might be having suicidal urges. Someone with no regard for their safety is often mistaken for an irresponsible kid, but it could be their way of reaching out. Likewise, if someone is actively seeking out dangerous things like pills, weapons, etc, they are probably thinking of killing themselves.
If anyone you know is emitting behaviour similar to any of the signs I have listed above, please take the time to make sure they’re okay, or at least tell someone close to them about your concerns. Sometimes just reaching out to a suicidal individual, talking to them, and empathizing with them is enough to make them reconsider taking their life.
How to Help
Start by asking questions. For example, ‘How long have you felt this way?’, ‘Why are you contemplating suicide?’, or ‘How can I help?’ are good places to start. They might not feel comfortable answering all of your questions, but it’s best if you try your best to find out the ‘why’. Letting them open up about and sort out their reasons might help them realize that it’s not worth dying over.
Secondly, urge them to speak to a professional. Talking to a therapist or mental health expert is one of the best things someone can do if they are having suicidal urges. Many suicidal people harbor a feeling of shame, which might inhibit them from seeking help from a licensed professional. Do your best to convince them that they aren’t alone and that getting medical help is one of the best things they can do. Suicidal people often don’t actually want to die, but they see it as the only way out. If things are really bad, or they are on the verge of committing suicide, call a suicide hotline.
Next, offer your assistance. Ask them how you can help them. Emphasize that they aren’t a burden; that you are willing to help them in any way you can. And remember–Do not be judgemental or patronizing in any way, shape, or form. Don’t shame them for being suicidal; that will only make them feel worse and drive them further to the edge. Instead, try to remain calm and understanding. Let them do the talking.
Lastly, do not keep their suicidal feelings a secret. Tell a teacher, counselor, parent, or another trusted individual. Don’t gossip about it, but make sure someone else with the power to help them is notified. It’s better to lose a friend than to lose them to suicide.
Suicide is not ‘the coward’s way out.’ It’s not a laughing matter. People who commit suicide aren’t weak, and referring to them in that manner contributes to a toxic and hurtful narrative that we should be trying our best to stop. Sure, macabre humor is commonplace and isn’t taken seriously, especially now. However, making light of the topic will make people who actually have suicidal thoughts feel irrelevant and unimportant. So please, if you notice someone acting odd, tell someone.
Depression affects up to 25% of adults in any given year. Though females are more likely to suffer from depression, males are four times more likely to commit suicide and make up 79% of all U.S suicides. On top of that, only half of adults with depression get treatment. About 800,00 people die via suicide globally per year.
In ages 15-24, suicide is the 2nd most common cause of death. In addition, LGBTQ+ youth are three times more likely to commit suicide due to discrimination, harassment, bullying, or lack of acceptance by friends and family.
Suicide isn’t stopping because September is over and your feed is back to normal. There are still people dying, every day because no one noticed they needed help or they didn’t get proper treatment. This issue matters to me. And now I hope it matters more to you too. Again, if anyone you know is contemplating suicide, tell someone. You might just end up saving a life.