It is important for us to be able to recognize when someone (even yourself) is at risk of suicide. The first step is to understand the issue and separate the Myths from the Facts.
- MYTH: People who talk about suicide are unlikely to commit suicide.
Talking about suicide is a warning. Of any ten person who complete an act of suicide, eight have given definite warnings of their suicidal intentions.
- MYTH: Teenage boys are the age group most likely to commit suicide.
The elderly are most at risk for committing suicide. Youth, ages 15-24 are in a high risk pool, but actually the elderly are at highest risk for suicide, as elderly adults have suicide rates close to 50% higher than all other age groups.
- MYTH: Males are most likely to be suicidal
Women think about suicide more often than men. In fact, women attempt suicide three times more often than men; however, Men complete suicide more often than women because they choose more lethal means of killing themselves (guns, hanging), whereas women are more likely to chose less lethal means (overdosing). The following chart illustrates the differences.
- MYTH: Suicide happens without warning
Most suicidal people give many clues and warning signs regarding their suicidal intention. These Warning Signs are actions and behaviors that are cause for immediately seeking professional help. The American Association of Suicidology reports the following examples of actions/behaviors that should cause you to seek professional help immediately.
- Someone threatening to hurt or kill him/herself, or talking of wanting to hurt or kill him/herself.
- Someone looking for ways to kill him/herself by seeking access to firearms, available pills or other means.
- Someone talking or writing about death, dying or suicide, when these actions are out of the ordinary for the person.
- Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge
- Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking
- Feeling trapped ' like there's no way out
- Increasing Alcohol or Drug Use
- Withdrawing from friends, family and society
- Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all the time
- Dramatic Mood Changes
- No reason for living; no sense of purpose in life
- MYTH: Talking with someone about suicide may encourage them to complete suicide.
Actually, talking may provide relief from painful emotions. We may feel uncomfortable in asking the question, 'Are you thinking about suicide?', but if we do ask the question and the person is indeed suicidal, this will help them, as most people are relieved when someone recognizes their pain, and gives them a chance to talk about it. Research has proven that if they were not previously suicidal, asking them the question will not put the idea in their head. Asking someone about suicide may be one of the most important tools that you have (e.g. 'Are you feeling so down that you have thought about suicide?')
- MYTH: Suicidal people are fully intent on dying.
Most suicidal people are undecided about living or dying ' this is called suicidal ambivalence. A part of them wants to live, however, death seems like the only way out of their pain and suffering. They may allow themselves to 'gamble with death' , leaving it to others to save them. Wanting to kill themselves may have nothing to do with wanting to die and instead may have to do with wanting to escape the pain they are feeling. We can see differing levels of ambivalence by looking at the circumstances surrounding a suicide attempt or completion. For example:
- The man who told his girlfriend he was going downstairs to the bathroom, then went downstairs, left all the lights on, and hung himself. (She is in close proximity, chances are she will find him and save him, but the means he chose was highly lethal)
- The girl who took 8 sleeping pills (not medically serious attempt) and then told her best friend and her guidance counselor (not a very serious attempt, but definitely a serious cry for help ' indicating she is in pain)
- The man who never drank alcohol because it is against his religion, who went for a midnight walk in the woods in the middle of the winter, didn't tell anyone where he was going, and purposely drank enough alcohol that he passed out. He was very intent on killing himself.
- MYTH: Improvement following a suicide attempt or crisis usually means that the risk is over.
Most suicides occur within days or weeks of improvement, when the individual has the energy and motivation to actually follow through with his/her suicidal thoughts. Most people will see helping those with suicide ideation as a lost cause (i.e. Even if people do improve they will still kill themselves no mater what). What is needed is setting up professional help and creating future plans of actions for the suicidal.
- MYTH: Most suicides occur around the winter holidays ' in December.
More suicides occur during the Spring and early Summer months. Why?' Some say it's because of the contrast between the 'outside environment' and the 'inside environment' (the mind) of someone who may be feeling depressed and suicidal. For someone who is feeling depressed and/or suicidal, what's happening inside is in grave contrast to what's happening outside. Here's a chart illustrating the periods during the year when suicide is more likely.
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The information provided by Rainbow Access Initiative, Inc. is for educational purposes only and is not intended to render medical advice or professional services. The information should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or a disease and is not a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, consult your healthcare provider.
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These materials were produced through a grant from the New York State Department of Health.
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