Suicide is an uncomfortable topic to discuss, and understandably so. Nevertheless, it’s a topic that more people should address openly and honestly. To help raise awareness of suicide prevention, Suicide Prevention Awareness Month is held in September, with National Suicide Prevention Week being the week of September 4 through September 10th. During this month, mental health organizations and individuals across the U.S. and around the world start candid dialogues about the importance of mental health and strategize about how to prevent suicide, one of the leading causes of death.
If you’re brainstorming ways to help make an impact during Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, here are five steps to take a deeper dive into suicide prevention work:
Learn the correct terminology
Conversations about suicide are never easy, but they can be life-saving, starting with how we frame our words. For example, “suicide” refers to when people harm themselves with the goal of ending their life, and they die as a result. A “suicide attempt” is a non-fatal, self-directed, potentially injurious behavior with the intent to die as a result of the behavior. Though, a suicide attempt doesn’t always result in injury. It’s crucial to use these terms, as mental health professionals advise steering clear of using phrases like “failed suicide” or “successful suicide,” which perpetuate negative stigmas. “Suicidal ideation” refers to thinking about, considering, or planning suicide.
Another grammar tip is to use the phrase “died by suicide,” instead of “committed suicide” when talking about someone who lost their life. Suicide is not a crime that one commits, but rather a complex outcome of negative mental health effects and risk factors.
Research statistics on suicide at an individual level
- 79% of all people who die by suicide are male.
- Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10–14 and the 3rd leading cause of death among people aged 15-24 in the U.S.
- Suicide is the 12th leading cause of death overall in the U.S.
- 46% of people who die by suicide were diagnosed with a mental health condition, but studies show that 90% experienced symptoms of a mental health condition regardless of an official diagnosis.
Research statistics on suicide on a community level
- Annual prevalence of severe thoughts of suicide, by U.S. demographic group:
- American Indian and Alaska Natives have the highest rates of suicide of all race groups in the United States
- Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are nearly 4x more likely to attempt suicide than straight youth.
- Transgender adults are nearly 9x more likely to attempt suicide than cisgender adults.
Advocate for mental health locally
Mental health advocacy can gain momentum by including your local community. Allowing families, employees, student organizations, non-profit organizations, or faith-based community members to collaborate could work wonders. Don’t forget to reach out to people in positions of influence too, like university administrators, journalists, or legislators. They’ll likely have enough authority to implement strategies quicker or share resources with a larger audience.
Know the warning signs of suicide
Pain isn’t always obvious, but there are potential signs that someone may be contemplating suicide. Whether the signs appear in conversations, through behaviors, or in cryptic posts online, it’s equally important to make note of them. Has this person consistently talked about feeling trapped, withdrawn, or isolated? Have they talked about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live? Have they mentioned wanting to die? If you observe these warning signs happening on a consistent basis, especially if they seem related to a painful event, loss, or change, then step in or speak up.
If any of these signs are present, call 988, the new three-digit dialing code that will route callers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (now known as the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline). Though, the previous Lifeline phone number (1-800-273-8255) is still available to people in emotional distress or suicidal crisis.
Ultimately, it’s okay to check in and ask someone “Are you okay?” And if you’re the one who’s struggling, please know that you’re alone. Despite how it may appear on the surface, most people struggle with their mental health at some point in their lives. Luckily, sharing your experiences and strengthening your support system can change your life.