September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. This awareness month can be difficult for many survivors and suicide prevention advocates. The mental health community has often communicated half-truths, or misinformation related to suicide prevention. Many mental health professionals are trained to assess severity of someone’s suicidality/crisis, but are not often trained with how to connect with someone in this type of deep despair.
Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US. In 2018, 48,344 Americans died by suicide. In that same year there were an estimated 1.4 million suicide attempts. While suicide rates are highest in middle aged white men (69.67% of suicide deaths in 2018), there is recognition that under reporting could effect this statistic.
More Than Assessment Is Needed
Inquiring about someone’s emotional state or suicidality doesn’t “plant ideas,” or inherently lead an individual to becoming more suicidal. Having said that, the very act of trying to formally assess someone’s safety can be damaging depending on how this is done. First, and foremost, suicidality is a spectrum. We are all on a range from having no suicidal feelings, thoughts, intent or plans, to having all, or a mixture of these factors. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline has put together a standardized protocol for assessing someone’s severity which can be found here.
While the standardization of assessment can be important it is not always helpful to think in terms of heirarchy for suicidality or suicide attempts. All suicidal communication and actions need to be taken equally seriously. This must done so with acceptance, partnership and with the individual’s wellbeing taking front and center stage.
Humanizing The Assessment and Support
This concept of person centered care needs to be better communicated when working with suicidal loved ones, clients, or patients. The fear of making the wrong decision or being sued can take us away from actually attending to that person, who is suffering in front of us. Suicidality isn’t just a mental illness issue. It is a health issue. By that token it is also a political, economical, social, and community related issue. Providing those with better access to inclusive health care, food, education, job opportunities, and shelter are just as important as ensuring that they have avenues for mental health treatment. We encourage you to check out https://livethroughthis.org/ for a comprehensive understanding of what puts someone at risk, and to better understand survivors’ stories and experiences. Let’s bring the humanity back to this highly needed care.
What can you do as a loved one to support someone you are concerned about?
- Acknowledge that person’s pain and despair.
- Radically accept their communicated pain in however it is expressed. Reflect this acceptance to them.
- Encourage them to be open with their expression of their emotions.
- Communicate your love and willingness to be at their side.
- Make sure that they have access to appropriate resources: They can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 and pressing Option 1, the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 (U.S.) or 877-330-6366 (Canada), or The Trevor Project at 866-488-7386. Also, you can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741. If you’d like to talk to a peer, warmline.org contains links to warmlines in every state. Locally, you can use the Region Ten Crisis Support line, 434-972-1800, and check out https://www.sparchope.org/ for other ways to support our community and your loved ones with suicide prevention.
- Lastly, ensure that they know that you want to be a resource who can partner with them in seeking support through these resources.
If you or a loved one are struggling with difficult thoughts or feelings, please feel free to call Virginia Family Therapy at 434-202-4080 and request a free consultation with one of our experienced therapists. We can let you how therapy may benefit you. We are also familiar with many other regional resources that may be appropriate to refer you to. We are not a crisis service or crisis line. Please use the above noted resources if you or a loved one is in a crisis.