Beyond its devastating impact on individuals and families, suicide is a growing public health problem.
It is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. In 2017, more than 47,000 Americans committed suicide, and rates have been increasing over the past decade. It was the second leading cause of death for individuals between 10 and 34.
The highest rates of suicide occur in adults between 45 and 54. Teens and young adults have lower rates of suicide, however, the age group has seen a noticeable increase since 2010.
The problem may see overwhelming, but individuals can make a difference, said licensed professional counselor Kris Riddle, who serves as the clinical director for the Life Core’s ASIST program.
“If you can keep them safe for a period of time, you give them the opportunity to make another choice,” Riddle said.
Life Core offers ASIST – Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training – to any interested adult. While many people in the mental health and education fields take the course, it is designed for those without any professional background. The goal of ASIST, which is an international model, is to prepare people to keep people safe and connect them with help, not to try to deliver therapy.
“We encourage as many people from the community as possible to get trained,” Riddle said.
In many cases, people who are seriously contemplating suicide will say things to signal they are in trouble. The ASIST program calls these moments invitations, Riddle said.
“Often the best people to recognize these individuals are the people that know them best,” Riddle said.
The next ASIST training will be offered 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 19-20. The cost is $100 to cover the cost of materials. For more information, call (662) 640-4595.
Although it’s a myth that suicides peak in December and January, there are things that people can do if they are concerned a friend, family member or colleague is considering harming themselves.
Resources are available 24-7 to help them intervene, Riddle said. The Life Core mobile crisis team can be reached at (866) 255-9986. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at (800) 273-8255.
The first thing is to understand a person contemplating suicide is often feeling a great deal of anguish and feels that everyone around them would be better off without them.
“People with thoughts of suicide don’t see themselves as assets,” Riddle said. “They feel very alone.”
Don’t be afraid to ask directly if they are thinking about suicide or harming themselves, Riddle said.
“Make it a yes or no question,” Riddle said. “You are not putting thoughts in their head.”
The next step is to compassionately hear their story, Riddle said. Let them know you care.
“Listening to their story can be hard, and they’re not safe yet,” Riddle said.
The next steps are looking for some type of life connection and getting them to agree to stay safe for now.
A safety plan can take a number of different forms, Riddle said. It can involve disabling their suicide plan by removing guns or pills from the house. It might involve asking them if they would like someone to stay with them or get them to a safe place.
Making a difference
Just knowing that someone cares about them can make a huge difference to people contemplating suicide
Using federal survey data, the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 9.8 million U.S. adults had serious thoughts of committing suicide. About 2.8 million are estimated to make suicide plans. About 1.3 million are estimated to have attempted suicide. Like the tip of the iceberg, only a small percentage complete suicide.
“For many people, one intervention may be all they ever need,” Riddle said. “If they are here for the next intervention, that’s a good thing, too.”