One in five Americans experience mental illness in their lifetime. One in 25 experience ongoing mental illness. This year, there’s an even greater need for awareness of the emotional well-being of others.
Those were key points Jennifer Brandt made while addressing the virtual Healing the Heartland conference sponsored by the Indiana AgriInstitute. Brandt is director of member well-being and inclusion initiatives for the American Veterinary Medical Association.
While complicated and tragic, suicide is often preventable, Brandt says. Current statistics reveal that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. In 2018, 48,344 Americans died by suicide, with an estimated 1.4 million suicide attempts.
The rate is highest in middle-aged white men. In 2018, men died by suicide 3.56 times more often than women. On average, there are 132 suicides per day.
Even more tragic, Brandt notes, is that suicide is the second leading cause of death in people ages 15 to 29.
Risk factors vary. However, Brandt says, there are several common factors. They include health conditions and pain, depression, anxiety, and prolonged stress. Other possible factors include harassment, bullying, relationship problems and unemployment.
Stressful life events sometimes increase the risk of someone becoming suicidal, Brandt says. These include rejection, divorce, life transitions, loss or even exposure to another person’s suicide. Graphic or sensationalized accounts of suicide or previous suicide attempts by a person are also risk factors. A person may be more likely to consider suicide based on a family history of suicide, childhood neglect, trauma or abuse.
“If someone has experienced several risk factors, be aware of warning signs that can be found in their words,” Brandt says. “If a person talks about feeling hopeless, having no reason to live, being a burden to others or feeling trapped, paying close attention to their behavior would be wise.”
Increased use of alcohol or drugs, researching ways to die by suicide or withdrawing from activities with a noted difference in mood are also warning signs that should be taken seriously, Brandt says. Differences in mood may show up as irritability, agitation, depression, humiliation or shame.
If you suspect someone is considering suicide, start a conversation. Brandt points out that openly talking about suicide will never put the idea into someone’s head.
“There should not be any fear in bringing up the subject; rather, the approach can be direct but compassionate,” she says. “With comments like, ‘I’ve noticed lately that you aren’t sleeping well,’ ‘You aren’t interested in gathering with people’ or ‘Your appearance has changed,’ it can open the door to press necessary questions.”
These “necessary” questions can be direct, Brandt says. “Are you thinking about suicide?” “Do you have a plan?” “Do you have access to a means?” Any “yes” answer means the person should not be left alone, she says. Call a therapist or health care professional. Remove any weapons and medication. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline or 911, if necessary.
“While you cannot know exactly how they feel, you can express sincere concern and tell them their life is valuable,” Brandt adds.
The number for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 800-273-8255. Visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
McClain writes from Greenwood, Ind. Tom J. Bechman contributed to this story. Indiana Prairie Farmer is not responsible for content provided by services mentioned in the article.