September is suicide prevention month. Every year, more than 37,000 people die by suicide. NPR’s Science Friday did a wonderful piece on suicide titled “Diagnosing Destruction” which looked at the science and research behind suicide and suicide prevention. There are many excellent books to help us understand suicide and why people kill themselves; two that I have found particularly helpful are The Suicidal Mind by Edwin S. Shneidman, and Why People Die by Suicide by Thomas Joiner.

Statistically, we know that certain demographic groups are more at risk to die by suicide. These include being male, between the ages of 15-24 and over 65 and being diagnosed with a mental disorder. Despite these statistics, it is still impossible to predict if a person will make a suicide attempt. However, here are some warning signs that a person may be considering suicide.

  • Being depressed
  • Actively talking about death or desire to kill themselves
  • Researching ways to kill themselves
  • Purchasing a firearm
  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness or unbearable emotional/physical pain
  • Increased drug or alcohol use
  • Increased agitation or anxiety
  • Increased risk-taking behaviors
  • Extreme changes in mood
  • Rage or desire to seek revenge

Always take someone seriously if they say they are feeling suicidal. Even if someone has made suicidal statements in the past and never followed through, there is always the possibility that this time they will try to kill themselves.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, here are some recommendations. Any person who is thinking about suicide should be evaluated by a qualified mental health or suicide prevention professional.

  • Contact your local or national crisis line or accompany the individual to your local emergency room.
  • Never leave someone alone who says they are seriously thinking about killing themselves.
  • Remove all firearms and ammunition from the home (locking them up is not considered sufficient).
  • Secure or remove any potential lethal medications or chemicals from the home.
  • Call 911 if the person is actively making an attempt to kill him or herself or is refusing to seek help.

Visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline for more tips on how to help someone who is feeling suicidal. Military veterans also have the option of calling the Veteran’s Crisis Line.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has developed a fantastic suicide prevention program called The Connect Project that aims to train community partners in how to prevent suicide and intervene when someone has died by suicide. In New Hampshire there are several grief support groups for family and friends who have lost a loved one to suicide. NAMI New Hampshire also provides resources for those who have survived a suicide attempt. Finally, NAMI New Hampshire hosts an excellent Suicide Prevention Conference each year.

Suicide is preventable. There is hope. Please make a difference by learning more about suicide prevention and educating others.