Sunday, June 13, 2010

Counseling Corner Toolbox: Facts and strategies for suicide prevention

1-800-273-TALK (8255)

I just got the call.  A friend of a friend died this morning. Suicide.  Senseless, tragic, sad. Memories of my own friend who committed suicide 10 years ago flood back. I am transported back to those familiar emotions I experienced when I received the call: disbelief, sorrow, confusion, anger. Many ask, what could we have done? Should we have seen the signs?

One of my duties as a psychologist is to train people in suicide prevention and intervention. It is one of the hardest training courses that I do, but also the most important, in my opinion. If arming people with knowledge can help save a life, it is well worth it.

I would never sit here an try to tell you that you can absolutely, 100%,  prevent someone from committing suicide. What I can tell you is this: becoming educated about suicide and suicide prevention can go a long way to helping prevent someone from taking their own life. Are there any guarantees? No. But there might be ways to increase the chances that that person will get, and accept, help.

There are many factors that contribute to a person's decision to end their life. Some of these are: mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, support system, coping skills, gender, and age. There are many, many more. These interact and can sometime result in the loss of hope. A common misconception is that a someone would commit suicide simply due to a breakup or a setback. These are triggers, but the underlying risk factors are already in place.

Here are some facts (2006 statistics):
*Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States (Homicide is ranked 15th).
*A person will take their own life every 15.8 minutes.
*11. 1 in 100,000 people have completed suicide.
*Females make a suicide attempt four times more frequently than males, however, the highest rate of completed suicide is in males.
*For every documented death from suicide, there are 25 attempts
*There are 6 survivors of every person who commits suicide (1 in every 65 Americans is estimated to be a suicide survivor - who has lost a loved on to suicide).

One of the goals of the suicide prevention course, called QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer), is to dispel certain myths about suicide. I will share these with you now:

Myth: No one can stop a suicide, it is inevitable.
Fact:  If people in a crisis get the help they need, and get through the crisis, they will probably never be suicidal again. They will most likely remember that they felt this way before and that there IS hope.

Myth: Confronting a person about suicide will only make them angry and increase the risk of suicide.
Fact:   Asking someone directly about suicidal intent lowers anxiety, opens up communication and lowers the risk of an impulsive act. We sometimes find that people actually want someone to talk to, but feel isolated and alone.

Myth:  Only trained experts can prevent suicide.
Fact:  Anybody, that means YOU, can intervene and try to prevent someone from committing suicide.

Myth:  Suicidal people keep their plans to themselves.
Fact: Most suicidal people communicate their intent sometime during the week preceding their attempt. Common signs can be giving away prized possessions, any sudden change in mood, talking about death and dying. If you see these signs, ask more questions.

Myth: Those who talk about suicide don’t do it.
Fact: People who talk about suicide may try, or even complete, an act of self-destruction (see previous Myth)

What should you do if you suspect someone considering/planning suicide? 
1. Ask the question.  Don't beat around the bush, be direct. "Are you thinking of committing suicide?" It is not an easy question to ask.  If you cannot ask, bring the person to someone who can. Another friend, a professional, a parent....someone. 
2. Next, take the person to a place where they can receive help: an emergency room, a trained professional. If they are in crisis, and refusing to get assistance, call for help immediately. Do not take this lightly.
If you or someone you know needs help, CALL 1-800-273-TALK

For more information, please contact the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (, the QPR Institute, (, (  or contact me for more information. I perform training and education about suicide prevention and intervention.

If you or someone you know are in crisis, contact your local emergency services, by dialing 911.


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