An estimated one million people per year die by suicide or about one person in 10,000 (1.4% of all deaths), or “a death every 40 seconds or about 3,000 every day”. As of 2004 the number of people who die by suicide is expected to reach 1.5 million per year by 2020.
Physical and especially mental health disabling issues such as depression, are among the most common of the long list of complex and interrelated factors, ranging from financial problems to the experience of abuse, aggression, exploitation, and mistreatment, that can contribute to the feelings of pain and hopelessness underlying suicide. Usually, substances and alcohol abuse also play a role. Prevention strategies generally emphasize public awareness of social stigma and suicidal behaviors.
The best thing you can do is armor yourself with information and take action when you recognize signs or symptoms of depression, suicidal thoughts, or self-harm, indicating that someone is at risk of contemplating or attempting suicide.
Start the Conversation
It can be hard to know when someone may be thinking about suicide, explains Doreen Marshall, PhD, Vice President of Mission Engagement at the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention.
Take notice of changes in behavior, expressions of hopelessness, changes in mood, or difficulty with daily activities that could indicate the presence of a worsening mental health condition, and don’t be afraid to ask someone if they have been having thoughts of suicide, especially if they’re experiencing significant life stressors.
While mental health professionals have education, tools, and resources to support individuals struggling with their mental health, Dr. Marshall says we all play a critical role in suicide prevention. Having an open, authentic conversation about mental health with loved ones is a great first step.
This may not be easy, of course, but Dr. Marshall offers some useful tips:
- When someone is struggling, just listen to them.
- Let others share at their own speed.
- Don’t pass judgment or offer advice; just be present.
- Understand that we all experience mental health differently, and that’s OK.
- Following the conversation, check back in and offer to connect them to professional help if they need it.
If you’re concerned about what you’re noticing or become aware that you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, Dr. Marshall says it’s important to reach out to a mental health professional for support.
Mental health looks different for everyone, but we all need support. No matter if it’s a loved one, a neighbor, a therapist, or a community organization, it’s important to have a reliable network of people who are there when life gets hard.
This World Suicide Prevention Day, open the lines of communication. If you know someone who is struggling, reach out to them. If you, yourself, are struggling, open up to a loved one or a mental health expert. Starting the conversation is an important first step in getting help.
Keep your ears and heart open.