September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Additionally, on September 10th, World Suicide Prevention Day, the globe unites to remember those affected by suicide and to focus on directing treatment to those who need it most. The entire month is dedicated to making a difference, raising awareness, and extending help and resources to those in crisis.
Understanding risk factors can be the first step in raising awareness of suicide prevention. If a risk factor is present, it can alert you to pay attention, be there, be vigilant, and offer help or resources to a loved one. Let’s take a look at some of the risks that can be present in someone needing help according to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (sprc.org).
- Prior suicide attempt(s)
- Misuse and abuse of alcohol or other drugs
- Mental disorders, particularly depression and other mood disorders
- Access to lethal means
- Knowing someone who died by suicide, particularly a family member
- Social isolation
- Chronic disease and disability
- Lack of access to behavioral health care
It should also be noted that risk factors don’t remain the same across different groups of people. Risk factors can vary based on age, culture, sex, and other characteristics. For example, an emphasis on inclusion has brought to light the stress resulting from prejudice and discrimination against LGBT youth. Suicide attempts among this group are high when they face family rejection, bullying, and/or violence. Other groups who suffer unique risk factors are the American Indians and Alaska Natives. The historical trauma they faced due to resettlement and the destruction of both their cultures and economies contribute to a high suicide rate among this population. Another group with high risk are men in their middle years. This group can face stressors that threaten the traditional male role such as unemployment or divorce, which are both important risk factors.
There are also precipitating factors and warning signs that might trigger a suicidal crisis in a vulnerable person. These are:
- End of a relationship or marriage
- Death of a loved one
- An arrest
- Serious financial problems
Now that we understand some of the risk factors that increase the likelihood of suicide, let’s look at the options for protective factors that can help prevent the occurrence of suicide as listed by the SPRC.
- Effective behavioral health care. This treatment should focus on suicide risk and underlying health mental and/or substance use disorders.
- Connectedness to individuals, family, community, and social institutions. This means positive and supportive social relationships and community connections such as those between youth and positive adult role models (teachers, coaches, etc.), between people and community organizations like schools and faith-based groups, and peer-delivered services and support groups. Being involved with something positive is a huge buffer to the effect of suicide risk factors.
- Life skills like problem solving, coping, and the ability to adapt to change. Activities that enhance these skills can help people as they face new challenges such as illness, divorce, and economic stress. Workshops and groups offered by communities that deal with these issues are extremely helpful and should be sought out. Groups that teach mindfulness and stress reduction skills are also shown to be hugely beneficial when facing life challenges.
- Self-esteem and a sense of purpose or meaning in life
- Cultural, religious, or personal beliefs that discourage suicide
Being aware of the warning signs and risk factors can alert you that a loved one might be in need of help. Whether it’s you going with them to a support group or workshop, or even giving them options for professional behavioral health care, help is widely available for this prevalent issue. Your loved one doesn’t have to feel alone, hopeless, or helpless. If you feel you or a loved one might be at risk, do not hesitate to ask for help. Call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1(800) 273 TALK to speak with someone.