The tragic death of Robin Williams has brought the issue of suicide to our nation’s forefront once again. This loss of this man who brought joy and laughter to so many was shocking and a heartbreaking reminder of just how indiscriminate suicide can be.
While it can be easy to think of suicide as something that always happens in someone else’s family and someone else’s community, statistics show that it is a problem that impacts us all. Men and women of all ages and all races in every socioeconomic circle take their own lives every day.
Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the U.S. Our nation’s veterans account for nearly 20 percent of the more than 100 completed suicides that happen each day. For every person who kills his or herself, there are another 25 who make an attempt to do so.
We can choose to be discouraged by these facts or empowered by them. Suicide is preventable in many cases, and we all have a role to play in helping to save the lives of our neighbors, friends and family.
It begins by knowing suicide risk factors such as feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, agitation or trouble sleeping, withdrawal from friends, family and regular activities, substance abuse, and acting reckless or engaging in risky activities. It also involves showing that you care and asking hard questions.
Research shows asking a person if they are thinking about taking their life can encourage them to share their thoughts with someone who cares about them.
What often prevents individuals from taking any action that may help prevent a suicide is fear, as well as a number of myths surrounding suicide:
Myth: People who complete suicide don’t warn others about it.
Eight out of 10 people who kill themselves give definite clues to their intentions, although some may be nonverbal or difficult to detect.
Myth: People who talk about suicide are only trying to get attention but won’t really do it.
More than 70 percent of people who threaten to carry out a suicide either make an attempt or complete the act.
Myth: After a person has attempted suicide, they probably won’t try again.
In reality, people who have attempted suicide are very likely to try again. About 80 percent of the people who die from suicide have made at least one previous attempt.
Myth: Once someone’s emotional state improves, his or her risk of suicide goes away.
The highest rate of suicide occurs within about three months of an apparent improvement in a severely depressed state. An improvement in emotional state doesn’t mean a lessened risk.
We all – neighbors, employers, teachers, members of the clergy, parents, and friends – need to work to understand suicide and feel empowered to take action. We might be able to save a life.
If you are concerned that a loved one may be having suicidal thoughts – or you have been plagued with feelings of harming yourself – seek help immediately. Centerstone’s Crisis Line offers 24-hour support 800-681-7444. You can also reach us through our online Crisis Chat service at centerstone.org/get-help-now.
Becky Stoll is Centerstone’s vice president for crisis and disaster management. Centerstone, a nonprofit provider of community-based behavioral healthcare, provides a range of programs and services for children, adolescents, adults, seniors and families living with mental health or addiction disorders.