September 9 through 15 marked National Suicide Prevention Week as designated by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Every year, tens of thousands of people in the U.S. die by suicide, making it the tenth leading cause of death.
Though people of all genders, ages and ethnicities can be at risk, studies have shown that there are important statistical differences among them. For example, non-Hispanic American Indian and white populations have higher suicide rates than Hispanic and Black populations. Young people ages 10 to 34 also tend to be at higher risk of committing suicide.
However, though these distinctions exist, they are not necessarily helpful in identifying people in your own life who may be at risk. That’s why this year, AFSP is highlighting the importance of having #RealConvos about mental health as a powerful and effective way to help yourself or people around you who may be struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts.
Opening up regular conversations within your circles about mental health can help those who feel ashamed or scared feel more comfortable vocalizing their struggles. Not only will you be able to help support someone who is struggling, but you will also have an open support system for yourself if you are going through a rough time and need help. Of course, anyone who is contemplating self-harm should also be encouraged to seek professional help from a healthcare provider.
However, not everyone who needs support will feel comfortable having an open conversation. Though depression and other mental health disorders are commonly known risk factors for suicide, there are things that can also make someone more prone to suicidal thoughts or actions. Having a substance abuse disorder, family history of suicide, or experience of physical or sexual abuse, for example, may cause someone to be more likely to attempt to end their life.
Beyond risk factors, there are also several warning signs to pay attention to if you are concerned that someone you know may be in danger. Talking about death, wanting to die, or feeling trapped, using alcohol or drugs more often, displaying extreme mood swings, and giving away important possessions are all major warning signs, among others, that someone is planning to harm themselves. Pay attention to these types of behaviors in your friends and family, especially if they have any of the risk factors for suicide.
It’s important to remember that you are not responsible if someone you know has attempted or died by suicide. Similarly, if you are struggling with thoughts of self-harm and don’t feel comfortable approaching people around you, seek out professional help and guidance instead. While it is not a full-proof way of preventing self-harm incidents, knowing the warning signs and risk factors is an important part of suicide prevention.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (ESP) can be reached at 1-888-628-9454
The Crisis Text Line can be reached by texting HOME to 741-741.
The Trevor Project Lifeline can be reached at 1-866-488-7386.
The Trans Lifeline can be reached at 1-877-565-8860.