If you’re reading this, chances are you know someone who has thought about, attempted, or lost their life to suicide. As one of the leading causes of death in the United States, suicide is a serious public health concern that affects individuals, families, and communities alike. One of the populations most at-risk of self-harm and suicide is youth in foster care. In contrast to young individuals not in foster care, placed youth are:
- Three times more likely to consider suicide
- Four times more likely to have made an attempt in the past year
- Five times more likely to be hospitalized following an attempt
While these statistics can be disheartening, avoiding the topic is not the answer. Awareness and prevention efforts can make a significant difference in saving lives. Especially during National Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month, let’s be intentional about cultivating open conversations and supportive environments. We can work together to prevent suicides and provide help to those who need it.
Here are ten ways you can help prevent suicide in your community:
1. Educate Yourself
Start by understanding the signs of suicide and risk factors. Learn about the different mental health conditions that can contribute to suicidal thoughts. Being informed helps you recognize when someone might be struggling and empowers you to offer appropriate support.
2. Be a Good Listener
Often, individuals in distress just need someone to talk to. Be an active and empathetic listener without judgment. Allow them to express their feelings and thoughts without interruption. Your willingness to listen can be incredibly valuable.
3. Break the Stigma
Promote open conversations about mental health. Stigma can prevent people from seeking help when they need it the most. By talking openly about mental health and sharing your own experiences, you can create a safe space for others to open up.
4. Stay Connected
Maintaining strong social connections is crucial for mental well-being. Reach out to friends and loved ones regularly, especially if you notice any changes in their behavior or mood. Sometimes, even a simple conversation can provide invaluable comfort and support to a friend in need.
5. Recognize Warning Signs
Familiarize yourself with the warning signs of suicide. These signs may show up differently in each individual, but there are usually some recognizable patterns. Some examples of warning signs include:
- Expressing hopelessness
- Withdrawing from social activities
- Reckless behavior
- Giving away possessions
- Increased use of drugs or alcohol
- Talking about death/suicide
Taking these signs seriously and having the courage to intervene can ultimately save a life.
6. Offer Support
If you believe someone is struggling, express your concern and offer your support. Let them know you care about their well-being and are there to listen without judgment. Simply knowing that someone cares can make a significant difference.
7. Encourage Professional Help
While your support is valuable, it’s important to encourage professional help as well. If someone is experiencing severe distress, suicidal thoughts, or mental health conditions, a mental health professional can provide the necessary guidance and treatment.
8. Create a Safety Plan
Work together with the person at risk to create a safety plan. This plan might include emergency contact information, coping strategies, and steps to take if they experience a crisis. Having a plan in place can provide a sense of control and comfort.
9. Spread Awareness
Participate in suicide prevention campaigns and initiatives. Use your voice to raise awareness about available resources, support helplines, and mental health services. Sharing information can reach people who need help and might not know where to find it.
10. Take Care of Yourself
Supporting others can be emotionally demanding. Remember to prioritize your own mental health and seek support if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Taking care of yourself enables you to provide better support to those in need.
Suicide awareness and prevention require a collective effort. By educating ourselves, encouraging honest conversations, and offering support, we can create a more compassionate and understanding society. Remember that small actions can have a big impact. Whether you’re checking in on a friend, spreading awareness, or promoting mental health resources, your efforts contribute to saving lives and making a positive difference.
“I have found that it is the small everyday deed of ordinary folks that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien
Lanni Jackson, Contributor