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How to Prevent Suicide

Often, when a serious call for help is ignored, individuals may feel desperate, lost, and alone. Sometimes, they feel they have no one to turn to for guidance and alternatives are wearing thin. As worry, anxiousness, hopelessness, and doubt settle in, the depth of despair may prove too much for one to bear, causing them to consider taking their own life. Sometimes, suicide occurs because family, friends, and those who may have seen the signs, often deny that such an irreversible possibility may take place, leading them to ignore proper prevention methods.

How to Prevent Suicide

What is Suicide?

The act of deliberately taking one’s own life is called suicide and once it has taken place, loved ones and friends are often left with many questions, a range of emotions, deep sadness and regret [1]. In the United States, suicide is known as one of the top ten leading causes of death for males, whereas almost four times as many males as females succumb to the act. Overall, the most common methods of suicide include the use of guns, suffocation, and poison. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicidal males prefer the use of firearms, while women often turn towards poison [2].

There are many misconceptions pertaining to the issue of suicide. Many people link holiday depression (especially during Christmas season) with high suicide rates, but in reality, suicides are lowest during the wintertime and highest during the spring season.

Some people are also unaware that suicides among the elderly are rather high in proportion. In 2004, of every 100,000 people over the age of 65 – 14.3 died by suicide, which is a higher figure than the national average of 10.9 suicides per 100,000 people regarding the overall population. Surprisingly, non-Hispanic white men over the age of 85 possess the elevated rate of 17.8 suicide deaths per 100,000 people [3].

The Negative Effects of Suicide

The impact of suicide may shock loved ones, shatter a family, or stun a community, as affected parties try to make sense of the victim’s actions. Family and friends of a suicide victim often undergo a variety of emotions, including intense grief, psychological trauma, anger, remorse, confusion, guilt, and in some cases of terminal disease – a sense of relief.

The negative effects of suicide are also felt on an economic level, as deaths and injuries caused by suicidal behavior sometimes carry a direct cost of $25 billion each year. This may also include various health care services, funeral arrangements, autopsies, investigations, and indirect costs, such as loss of productivity pertaining to the suicide victim’s former place of employment.

Contributing Factors of Suicide

A suicide is sometimes a clear-cut event, especially when a detailed letter is left at the scene of the departed. While depression is one of the main contributing factors of suicide, some family and friends are left without a definite answer and must search for details that illustrate possible reasons. Often, a suicide typically includes one or more of the following factors:

a) Pain:

Extreme physical or emotional distress may cause a suicide, especially when the victim feels there is no other solution to their struggles.

b) Stress:

The inability to cope with everyday tension and pressure may result in a suicide, as individuals attempt to overcome issues, such as the death of a loved one, divorce, and mounting financial bills. The stress of being in complete isolation (away from human contact) may also drive one mad enough to end his or her life. An example of this is seen when an individual who has become lost in a jungle or stranded on a deserted island loses hope of rescue and takes his or her own life.

c) Committing a Crime:

Some people fear a life behind bars once they have committed a crime or wish to avoid the punishment of incarceration (no matter how brief) and will take their life to escape their judicial fate.

d) Mental Illness:

Sometimes, suicide takes place as a result of mental illness, which deals with mixed messages received in the brain. Common victims include those with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorders [4].

e) Serious Injury:

When an individual encounters an injury that seriously alters their lives, they may face an extremely difficult time coping with the circumstances. This may include paralysis, disfigurement, and a loss of limbs.

f) Challenging Environment:

It is not uncommon to see suicide victims, who were abused by others or facing extreme living conditions, who have become weakened to the point where they feel they can no longer happily function within the world. This is often seen in victims of sexual abuse, domestic abuse, homelessness, continuous bullying, and poverty.

g) Financial Woes:

Dwindling assets, a big loss in the stock market, extreme debt, and being fired or laid off from their place of employment are some of the factors that set off a person to consider suicide. The inability to pay for their bills and handle their personal responsibilities is just some of the things that send people “over the edge.”

h) Unresolved Relationship Matters:

It could be the torment of concealing or receiving ridicule for one’s sexual orientation or the torturous aftermath of a harsh breakup that often sends individuals “looking for a way out.” Gender dysphoria and unrequited love are also personal burdens that some suicide victims battle against [4].

i) Avoid Dishonor:

Some cultures view suicide as a form of dodging dishonor or shame, and may involve both men and women in today’s worldwide society.

j) Terrorism:

Deep religious convictions or political affiliations have moved individuals to the point where they will commit suicide in the honor of their cause and beliefs. An example of this type of suicide is seen through the actions of a “suicide bomber.”

k) Religious Beliefs and Convictions:

Religious cults and philosophical beliefs that disregard the value of life (such as nihilism) are additional causes of such suicide.

l) Family History:

An individual who has a parent, grandparent, or other blood relative that has committed suicide may reflect a tendency that runs along the family tree. A personal history of mental disorders (especially depression); family history of child maltreatment; and history of alcohol and drug abuse are additional risk factors of suicide that involves heredity and genetics [5].

m) Previous Suicide Attempts:

If one has previously attempted to commit suicide without success, chances are more likely that a second attempt may follow if proper help is not received.

How to Prevent Suicide

In most cases, suicide becomes a permanent solution to an often-temporary problem. To date, many different prevention methods are being pushed as an alternative to taking ones life, which often involves the support and intervention of family and friends. A few suicide prevention strategies to consider, includes:

a) Promote a Positive Outlook on Life:

Keeping an individual optimistic, especially when they are going through an unusually difficult period, is important to keep familial connections alive and give support to loved ones. This also helps to strengthen the mentality of a person, who may exhibit a susceptibilty to taking his or her own life.

b) Education:

Knowledge is essential in the prevention of suicide, as it is important to become aware of common risk factors, warning signs, and options for help, if the issue should ever arise.

c) Better Training:

Sometimes, suicide can be prevented when health professionals and crisis counselors are better able to pinpoint potential cases and possess a more efficient manner in delivering health and welfare services, especially to those who appear in the most obvious need.

d) Long-Term Strategies:

Since many domestic violence-, substance abuse-, or mental health cases did not develop over night, it is foolish to think a week of treatment or even a month-long stay at a facility will indefinitely prevent suicide. There is a need for the establishment of long-term approaches in order to deal with the issues that have affected victim’s lives over longer period of time.

e) Reduce Access to Convenient Suicide Methods:

Since firearms and poison are some of the most common ways people commit suicide, it is important to monitor or reduce access to such items. This means removing the handgun out of the home and keeping an eye on all toxic substances.

f) Monitor Medication:

Both prescription and non-prescription medications are a threat to suicidal individuals. It is important to be on the lookout for abuse regarding aspirin, painkillers, and depression medication [6].

g) Self-Soothing:

Some suicide prevention groups will teach their members a skill referred to as “self-soothing,” where one of the five senses is used to provide the stimulation needed to calm an individual down when they are entering suicidal thoughts. Some self-soothing activities include taking a warm bath, sipping their favorite hot beverage, stroking a pet, burning a scented candle, or listening to music. The goal of this technique is to promote the dissolution of stress through stimulating, positive aspects in one’s life.

h) Distraction Techniques:

Another therapeutic approach towards suicide prevention is teaching the skill of distraction. The goal of this method is to educate a person on how to use distraction to take their mind off of accumulating stress, which is known to intensify suicidal tendencies.

For example, one may turn to the quietness of reading their favorite book or participate in something a bit more active like taking a run with the dog. While distraction techniques don’t lessen emotional pain, it is a way to take the mind away from destructive thoughts long enough to reach a certain level of calm. This may prevent a suicide attempt, which is often used as a way to escape painful moments in life.

i) Problem-Solving Skills:

Sometimes a suicide takes place because the victim is unable to cope with outside stresses and they reach a point of despair where they feel there is no way out of their miserable conditions. Equipping an individual with the tools of problem-solving strategies helps a person identify the severity of circumstances and encourage them to work towards finding resolution rather than deciding to “give up” on life.

j) Crisis Hotlines:

There are certain phone numbers that most locations in the United States provide for individuals on the verge of suicide, who are still willing to seek help for their problems. Usually, a suicidal person will call designated phone numbers to receive immediate attention in the form of over-the-phone emergency counseling. Trained volunteers, who will listen and help people through difficult points in their life, usually handle this type of prevention method. A few popular hotlines include National Suicide Prevention Lifeline; Lifeline International; Befrienders International; and Young America Hotline.

k) Suicide Watches:

This form of suicide prevention is commonly seen in psychiatric institutions, hospitals, and prisons, especially after someone is admitted or has experienced a traumatic event that may cause a desire to end their life. This monitoring process includes intensive involvement to make sure an individual is unable to cause harm that may result in a successful suicide.

In regards to institutionalized suicide watches, people are placed in an environment where it becomes difficult to cause self-harm. They may enter specialized padded cells or undergo a removal of lesser-known methods of suicide, such as shoelaces, belts, and bed sheets [7]. They may also experience frequent watch by guards, prison officers, or orderlies.

If you are in the presence of a family member or friend and suspect that they are suicidal – never leave them alone – instead encourage immediate help from his or her doctor or hospital emergency room. When the circumstances take a turn for the worse, calling 911 is not a betrayal of their trust – it is a life-saving decision that delivers the help your loved one desperately needs.


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide
[2] http://www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/harmsway.cfm#prevent
[3] http://www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/harmsway.cfm#adults
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide#Causes_of_suicide
[5] http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/factsheets/suifacts.htm
[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_prevention
[7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_watch

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