September is National Suicide Prevention Month. It is a time when we pay particular attention to helping those who might be in trouble. The danger signs of a potential suicide are seldom as obvious as those with many other emergencies. If you grasp your throat, most people would conclude that you’re choking. If a person suffers a stroke, unmistakable signs that something is seriously wrong include a drooping face, inability to lift up both arms, or being incapable of completing a coherent sentence.
Suicides are different. Some victims exhibit few signs that something is amiss. Indeed, a potential suicide candidate might appear to be as normal as everyone else, until the tragedy happens.
The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 1 million people die each year from suicide. A person contemplating suicide may not necessarily ask for help, but that doesn't mean that they don't want it. Often, people who take their lives don't really want to die. They are in such a state of emotional, mental or physical pain that they just want to stop hurting.
Suicide prevention starts with recognizing the warning signs and not ignoring them. Taking these signs seriously can literally mean the difference between life and death.
And while the signs might not be as apparent as the examples of choking or a stroke, there are clear signals to which you should pay attention.
Know the Warning Signs
- Threats or comments about killing themselves, also known as suicidal ideation, can begin with seemingly harmless thoughts like “I wish I wasn’t here” but can become more overt and dangerous.
- Increased alcohol and drug use.
- Aggressive behavior.
- Social withdrawal from friends, family and the community.
- Dramatic mood swings.
- Talking, writing or thinking about death.
- Impulsive or reckless behavior.
Is There Imminent Danger?
Any person exhibiting these behaviors should get care immediately:
- Putting their affairs in order and giving away their possessions.
- Saying goodbye to friends and family.
- Mood shifts from despair to calm.
- Planning, possibly by looking around to buy, steal or borrow the tools they need to commit suicide, such as a firearm or prescription medication.
Any suicide is heartbreaking, and what is particularly heart-rending is when that victim is young. “Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among adults in the U.S. and the second leading cause of death among people aged 10 to 24; these rates are increasing,” according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (www.nami.org).
I have great concern about this issue and the need for detecting early signs and offering intervention. For that reason, I have introduced legislation that calls for providing suicide prevention training in professional development programs for those who would otherwise not have access.
For example, this could be a contract employee who doesn’t have the same requirements that a full-time teacher must. (Our current law requires teaching staff members to receive suicide prevention training under their professional development umbrella.) My proposal would ensure that this training is free and calls for the creation of a fact sheet outlining suicide prevention, awareness and response. This fact sheet should be easily accessible on every education-related website and distributed to all school districts. The key here is twofold: we must ensure that the contact information is clearly listed and we must urge everyone in the education system to use it when they spot someone at risk.
The most important part of my message today is for YOU, someone who might recognize in yourself the danger signs I have shared. If you feel isolated, lonely, if you have thoughts about hurting yourself, if you feel left out and unloved, PLEASE get help immediately. Now. Don’t wait. Contact a health professional or someone whom you trust and respect. If you’re unsure where to turn, call 1-855-654-6735 NJ Hopeline. Tell them that you’re struggling and you need help. Or dial 911.
Making that phone call is not a sign of weakness. Asking for help is a sign of maturity and self-awareness. If you make the call, you’ll learn that people do care, and they care enough that they want to help. Just ask. That’s my take, what’s yours?