While there is no one cause that leads a person to contemplate taking their life, connections with people can help them not take that path. There is scientific evidence for reducing suicide risk by making sure we feel connected with one another to have open communication about mental health.
This week is National Suicide Prevention Week, which is from Sept. 9-15 this year.
Something The Pathways for a Healthier Stephens and Jefferson Counties board has been working on since May 1 is their Stop the Stigma campaign, said Kim Whaley, Pathways executive director. Pathways hopes residents will go to StopTheStigmaOK.com to sign the pledge to be open to talking about mental heath.
“With our Stop the Stigma website, you’re able to take a pledge and work with us, Pathways, to be a voice for people that cannot speak for themselves, to have the courage to accept the challenge that you won’t be stereotypical of those folks that do suffer with mental illnesses and really check yourself with your own attitude regarding mental illness,” Whaley said. “That we will be an example not only in health care but also in community wellness and how we view mental illness in our community right now.
“We will check ourselves about our own personal prejudices about mental illness and what it looks like. And that will we try and ‘retrain’ our thinking, if you will, and our behaviors around people that are suffering.”
Whaley said some of the language people use can hurt those needing to talk.
“The other thing we want to bring to light with the pledge is that we will choose our words carefully,” she said. “We want to make sure when we use the words ‘depression,’ ‘anxiety,’ ‘addiction,’ ‘suicide’ that we are very cognizant of how we say that and the tones that we use.”
Using words that can be seen as harmful and reinforcing negative stereotypes can shut down positive, open communication.
The National Alliance On Mental Illness (NAMI) is a nationwide grassroots advocacy group, representing people affected by mental illness in the United States. Their data on the subject can be “eye opening,” Whaley said.
“We have each year more than 41,000 individuals die by suicide. They are leaving behind friends and family members to basically navigate the tragedy of loss,” she said. “No matter what age they are, that’s a great loss — and how to manage that loss, they are affected by it as well. NAMI refers that as ‘suicide loss survivors.’
“They are kind of left in the dark because, too often, [the families] don’t understand why they would do that, [the families] didn’t expect them to do that, even if they knew there might something going on with that person. Because of that stigma, they don’t know how to reach out to them.”
One of the most important questions people don’t ask is “Have you ever or are you thinking of hurting yourself or killing yourself?”
“They are afraid to ask the question — There is nothing wrong with asking those questions,” Whaley said. “Even commissioner Teri White, at the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, has said that there is not any evidence that supports if you ask someone that question that they are going to go out and do it.
“We can’t be afraid to ask the hard questions, especially if you know someone that’s really hurting or struggling.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide rates have increased by 30 percent since 1999. Nearly 45,000 lives were lost to suicide in 2016.
Whaley said there are risk factors and warning signs, and keep someone in mind if you see several signs.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides Tele-Interpreters for more than 150 languages and features TTY service for the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities. If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
• Threats or comments about killing themselves, aka suicidal ideation, can begin with seemingly harmless thoughts like “I wish I wasn’t here” but can become more overt and dangerous.
• Increased alcohol and drug use
• Aggressive behavior
• Social withdrawal from friends, family and the community
• Dramatic mood swings
• Talking, writing or thinking about death
• Impulsive or reckless behavior
Risk factors for suicide
• A family history of suicide
• Substance abuse: Drugs and alcohol can result in mental highs and lows that exacerbate suicidal thoughts.
• Intoxication: More than 1 in 3 people who die from suicide are found to be currently 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.
• History of trauma or abuse
• Prolonged stress
• Age: People under age 24 or above age 65 are at a higher risk for suicide.
• Recent tragedy or loss
• Agitation and sleep deprivation