We have to talk about it. Asking someone if they are having suicidal thoughts will not give them the idea of ending their life. Instead, it creates an environment where they will feel safe asking for help to save it.
Suicide touches all of us. Most of us know of at least one person who has taken their life or who lost a friend or family member to suicide. It is the 12th leading cause of death in the United States. But it is the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10-14 and 25-34, overwhelmingly boys and men (80%). While girls and women more often have suicidal thoughts, males die by suicide more frequently, half of them by firearm.
In 2020, 1.2 million people in the U.S. attempted suicide; 45,279 died, well below totals for heart disease, cancer and COVID-19. But the difference is that unlike those diseases, most of us are uncomfortable talking about suicide or thoughts of self-harm in hopes of preventing it.
Many of us grew up believing that people who died by suicide were crazy or selfish. Research has proven this is not true. A person in crisis can become so set on stopping their pain that their normal thinking and decision-making skills go out the window. A suicidal person can’t see any escape from their pain, other than death. It is very important to remember, however, that they are deeply conflicted about the act of suicide.
Most who die by suicide have had sudden mood changes, or may have begun to behave differently. They may also have in some fashion talked about ending their lives, because most people who are suicidal want to talk about it. When you ask someone if they are having suicidal thoughts, you are giving them permission to share their story. What is important here is that often people don’t share or ask for help because they are afraid and embarrassed by the stigma that surrounds suicide.
It is imperative that we get past that. The words we use matter. For example, we should not use the word “commit,” which is often associated with committing a crime. Suicide is not a crime. We need to be direct, without judging, sensationalizing or unintentionally glorifying it. This is harder than it sounds.
When you ask someone about suicide, listen to the answer. The suicidal person needs to share their story, and remember they are not in a position to hear logic or all the reasons why they should choose life. They need to be heard.
If you feel that suicide is imminent, call 911. If not, call the suicide hotline at 988. Often just talking about their suicidal thoughts creates the time needed to get the individual through a moment of crisis. Then the individual can create a safety plan working with a professional.
Remember, most people who are suicidal are ambivalent; they do not want to die. Instead, we can offer them time while they are in crisis in an effort to get them to move in a different direction.
You may have noticed that I have used words such as most, some and may. That is because there is no easy formula to share that can absolutely save a life. However, we know that talking about suicide instead of ignoring it can save lives because it reduces a stigma that exists in our society, and it is this stigma that keeps people from asking for help.
Anne Nesbit is the prevention and public information officer and volunteer battalion chief for the Key Peninsula Fire Department. She lives in Lakebay.
UNDERWRITTEN BY NEWSMATCH/MIAMI FOUNDATION, THE ANGEL GUILD, ROTARY CLUB OF GIG HARBOR, ADVERTISERS, DONORS AND PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT LOCAL, INDEPENDENT NONPROFIT NEWS