01 Sep September is National Suicide Prevention Month
Sometimes, when I think about the fact that September is National Suicide Prevention month, I can’t help but wish it was unnecessary. Unfortunately, the numbers tell us it is.
In 2021, the United States Surgeon General issued an advisory that we need to address the nation’s youth mental health crisis. Even before the pandemic, we were seeing alarming increases in the number of young people experiencing hopelessness, depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide.
Even before the pandemic, mental health issues were one of the primary issues faced by today’s youth, with up to 20% of American children ages 3 to 17 reportedly experiencing a mental, emotional, developmental or behavioral disorder. Additionally, from 2009-2019, the rate of high school students reporting an increase in persistent feelings of hopelessness or sadness increased by 40%, to more than 1 in 3 students struggling. Lastly, suicidal behaviors increased during the same time period, demonstrating a 36% increase in suicidal ideation with 16% of these students making a suicide plan (a 44% increase from 2009-2019).
The pandemic exacerbated some of these numbers even further, leaving us with the question: What can we do to help? More of us believe that suicide is preventable than don’t. What are we doing to provide the support that is needed?
This is a much bigger question than can be answered within this article, although it is one that we consider at our office much of the time. We can start though, with providing some insight into how to talk about suicide with the young people in your life. These conversations are so important and the first step toward prevention.
There has historically been the belief that if we talk about suicide, we are putting the idea in someone’s head. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, acknowledging and talking about suicide may reduce suicidal ideation. It provides the validation that the young person may need and lets them know that you are a safe place to talk about their emotions.
Research has shown that connection can be a protective factor to loneliness. Loneliness can be a risk factor for depression and anxiety. If you can just be there, in a nonjudgmental way, young people may feel less overwhelmed and dysregulated. Promote connections with others, as well (even one person can make a BIG difference).
Sometimes, taking action on one’s suicidal thoughts is totally impulsive. The emotional pain feels so big that the only feasible option is to end the pain. In the moment, logical thought, that can include future planning, goes out the window. The less available lethal means are, the better the numbers are for suicide prevention.
Additionally, tied in with talking, speak openly about what it means to stay safe, how you want to support that and what measures may be needed to do so. It’s easy to avoid these tough conversations, and it’s important to have them.
IT’S NOT ONE AND DONE:
These are not easy conversations. There may need to be more than one. In fact, brief, supportive check-ins are an important element of suicide prevention. That connection and validation can be incredibly powerful.
Suicide can be preventable in some situations. Often people are concerned about the judgment that will come if they talk about it, so they keep their emotions and challenging thoughts to themselves. This is so true of young people who don’t want to be a burden and feel as though they cannot ask for help. This narrative is also one that needs to change.
I look forward to the time when we are out of an adolescent mental health crisis, when suicide rates decrease and we are all in a more stable, open place. In the interim, and until we get there, we at HPS will continue to provide the support and treatment we know is helpful and effective.
Authored by: Dr. Jennifer Hartstein