National Suicide Prevention Month is this September, with Suicide Prevention Week being recognized Sunday, Sep. 8, 2019 – Saturday, Sep. 14, 2019. Suicide is a growing issue in America, with an estimated 44,965 Americans ending their own lives each year, or roughly 123 each day. Think about that for a moment: 123 people each day saying they’ve had enough.
Suicide is the worst possible outcome there is not just for the individual, but for the family he or she leaves behind. Quite often this involves parents and grandparents, children, siblings and friends who are left wondering why. Why did he do it? Why didn’t I see the signs? Could I have done more? Is this somehow partially my fault? Was I not nice to him or her?
As mental health professionals, it hurts us too. If the person didn’t get help, why not? Was he or she denied access to mental health benefits? If he or she was under our care, where did we go wrong? Did we not see the signs or prescribe the wrong course of treatment?
When it comes to suicide, there are no straightforward answers. In fact, most of the time, we never get answers unless the person left behind a note, and even then, we are still often left scratching our heads in disbelief and dismay.
That’s why initiatives like National Suicide Prevention Month and Suicide Prevention Week are so important. It helps us shine the light on the pain of suicide, even if for a short period of time. The reality is, we need to have open conversations about suicide, depression and overall mental health all the time, 365 days a year. We need to end the stigma surrounding mental illness immediately or unfortunately, suicide will continue to needlessly end the lives of so many around us.
The only bit of good news is that suicide is preventable, but an intervention must take place. The driving force behind a suicide must be properly dealt with before it spirals out of control, whether this is a mental illness, nasty divorce, job loss or anything else.
We can provide hope and support by starting a conversation. Reach out to help normalize the topic. Don’t hesitate to seek treatment for mental illnesses. It is not a sign of weakness. Someone suffering from heart disease wouldn’t hesitate to seek help for their heart condition. The same normalization needs to be visible in the mental health community. If you suspect someone might be suicidal, here are some things you can do to help.
Again, help normalize the topic by conversation. Simply asking someone if they are thinking about suicide is a good step. Never promise to keep their suicidal thoughts a secret. Be open and non-judgmental. Encourage immediate professional intervention through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. It is available 24-hours a day.
Professional help is essential. Don’t just suggest it because they might be unlikely to follow through. Do it for them. Someone who might be suicidal could be suffering from deep depression, mania and other conditions that sometimes prevent clarity. Do the research and help get them set up with an appointment with a mental health professional like a clinical psychologist, psychiatrist or licensed counselor.
If someone in your life is contemplating suicide, constantly remind them that there is hope. There are many successful treatments which can help turn how their feeling around. Life is worth living. Continue to support and communicate with them. You can increase their feelings of connectedness and share your ongoing support. There is evidence that even a simple form of reaching out, like sending a card or email, can potentially reduce their risk for suicide. Remember, loneliness is a major cause of depression.
This National Suicide Prevention Month, let’s put an end to this horrific epidemic once and for all. The more we continue the conversation and bring attention to it, the more people we will reach and save.
Vinay Saranga M.D. is a psychiatrist and founder of Saranga Comprehensive Psychiatry.