The recent deaths of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade have brought suicide to the national forefront, much like recent school shootings have brought attention to school and community violence. I have written several times about violence in our schools and communities, but according to NIMH, there were more than twice as many suicides (44,965) in the United States as there were homicides (19,362) in 2016. This epidemic deserves as much attention and action. Clearly, we need to make mental health a priority in this country.

For those of you who work on the clinical side, this news doesn’t come as a surprise. In just the past year, our staff has reported four incidents of attempted suicides and 142 incidents of suicide ideation.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, based on the 2015 Youth Risk Behaviors Survey, 8.6 percent of youths in grades 9-12 reported that they had made at least one suicide attempt in the past 12 months. Girls attempted twice as often as boys (11.6 percent vs. 5.5 percent). The Parent Resource Program states that suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-24 (2016 CDC WISQARS). More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, combined.

These are alarming statistics.

There seems to be no single cause. Often suicide occurs when a person suffering from a mental health condition experiences stress that overcomes their ability to cope. But there is something that we can do about it. In fact, four out of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) provides a list of behaviors that may be signs that someone is thinking about suicide. We may know to look for these signs in our clients, but any of us may know friends, family members or our children’s friends who may be at risk. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves
  • Talking about feeling empty, hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Making a plan or looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online, stockpiling pills or buying a gun
  • Talking about great guilt or shame
  • Talking about feeling trapped or feeling that there are no solutions
  • Feeling unbearable pain (emotional or physical pain)
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Using alcohol or drugs more often
  • Acting anxious or agitated
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Changing eating or sleeping habits
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Taking great risks that could lead to death, such as driving extremely fast
  • Talking or thinking about death often
  • Displaying extreme mood swings, suddenly changing from very sad to very calm or happy
  • Giving away important possessions
  • Saying goodbye to friends and family
  • Putting affairs in order or making a will

The only effective way to prevent suicide is to identify people who need help, but too many people who are at risk of suicide do not seek that help.

The preventable, violent deaths among young Americans are at epidemic levels. Whether these deaths are caused by violence in our schools, violence in our communities or by suicide, we must do more to protect our young people. As a community, we need to better identify people in pain, people who are suffering from mental health issues and stressors beyond their ability to cope, and we must encourage our local, state and federal representatives to make mental health a priority in our schools, workplaces and communities.

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