Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists suicide as the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, it continues to be something many people are hesitant to discuss. For young adults 15 to 34 years of age, suicide is the third leading cause of death in Illinois. It is a serious but preventable public health concern that has lasting effects on individuals, families and communities.
Consider Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. People were shocked when it was announced these well-known celebrities died by suicide. To many of us, it seemed like they had it all and were thriving in life. But inside they were struggling. Both are examples of how suicide is a multifaceted problem. When it comes to suicide, no one is immune.
The stigma surrounding suicide may impact prevention and intervention efforts. Learning how to strengthen an individual’s protective factors that promote resiliency and use of coping skills, while simultaneously recognizing risk factors and imminent warning signs, is key. These factors all play a role:
- Protective factors – These are internal or external attributes that help individuals navigate through life and reduce related risks. For example, a sense of purpose, problem-solving and coping skills, personal, cultural and religious beliefs, social support systems and community connections. Losing any one of these factors may increase risk for suicide.
- Values – These are the things in life that are important to a person. Different people value different things in different ways. Values include things like family, job, one’s home, money and a pet. Like protective factors, loss of something that one values may increase a person’s risk for suicide.
- Risk factors – These are characteristics associated with suicide, but not necessarily direct causes. Big risk factors include a family history of suicide or previous suicide attempts. Other risk factors include mental illness or a history of substance abuse, feelings of hopelessness or isolation, loss of any type (relationship, work, financial), bullying, abuse, poverty and easy access to lethal means – such as a weapon or pills.
- Warning signs – These are things you might hear or see that may indicate someone is considering suicide. For example, mood changes, lack of hope, distancing self from others, saying goodbye and/or giving away items, anxiety, unexplained fatigue, self-harming behaviors, agitation, anger and irritability. Another important warning sign is making statements about wanting to hurt themselves or end their life. Warning signs are imminent, and once identified action should be taken. A common misconception is that asking about suicide will put the idea in a person mind. The reality is that asking will not cause someone to take their life but could prevent it.
Letting someone know you’re concerned and that you’ve noticed behavior changes may help them confide in you and seek help. Be there with them and listen to what they need. If a person admits they are considering suicide, take immediate action. Text the Crisis Text Line at 741741 or call Linden Oaks Behavioral Health. Then stay with the person until help arrives.
Edward-Elmhurst Health is committed to raising awareness of suicide and taking steps to help prevent it. In 2017, we collaborated with the City of Naperville and community leaders on an awareness program – Road to Zero Suicides – which was funded through a social services grant. This program trained several hundred individuals in 2018, helping them to understand and recognize suicide warning signs and strengthen protective factors. This education will continue in 2019. We also offer Mental Health First Aid – a program designed to help community members learn how to address mental health crises, including suicide.