Despite increasing openness about mental illness amid efforts to fight stigma, suicide remains a taboo word. Many people experience suicidal thoughts, but keep that to themselves. However, suicide deaths are preventable, and many recent advances enable us to better prevent them.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month, an opportunity for all of us to learn more about mental illness, suicide, and what we can do to help those who may be struggling. It is a time to redouble efforts to break down the stigma that too often holds us back.
The recent advances include better screening tools for identifying people at risk of suicide, improved care management protocols, upgraded crisis response measures, and suicide-specific therapy treatment. Another advance is the introduction last year of the 9-8-8 hotline number to support people experiencing a mental health crisis.
The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, seven days a week, across the United States. You can also call 988 if you are concerned about a loved one, friend, or colleague. Veterans and/or their loved ones and friends can call 988 and then press 1 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.
988 calls go to into a nearby crisis center, one of 200 across the country. When people call or text 988, or connect to chat online, they will be connected to trained counselors that are part of the Lifeline network. Trained counselors listen, understand how the caller’s problems are affecting them, provide support, and connect them to resources if necessary.
The previous Lifeline phone number (1-800-273-8255) will always remain available to people in emotional distress or suicidal crisis. Calls and texts to the Lifeline soared 33 percent since the simpler 988 number was introduced in July 2022.
According to KFF (formerly the Kaiser Family Foundation), in its first 11 months of operation 988 received nearly 4 million contacts, including 740,000 chats and more than 600,000 texts; an additional 1 million connections were made to the Veteran’s Crisis Line.
Ithaca’s 54-year-old Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service has long been part of the Lifeline network. Besides connecting through 9-8-8, its trained counselors can also be reached by dialing 607-272-1616.
The Lifeline has been proven to be effective. According to its administrator, numerous studies have shown that callers feel less suicidal, less depressed, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful after speaking with a Lifeline counselor.
The Lifeline is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and administered by Vibrant Emotional Health. SAMSHA provides a Partner Toolkit to help promote the 988 number and other suicide prevention services.
The latest statistics released last month by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control serve as a reminder of America’s mental health crisis.
After declining in 2019 and 2020, suicide deaths increased approximately 5 percent in the United States in 2021. Provisional estimates now indicate that suicide deaths further increased by 2.6 percent in 2022, according to the CDC. One encouraging indicator in the provisional data was that suicide deaths of people aged 10-24 declined by 8.4 percent.
Overall, suicide rates have risen more than 30 percent in the past two decades.
The latest figures underscore “the depths of the devastating mental health crisis in America,” according to U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. “These numbers are a sobering reminder of how urgent it is that we further expand access to mental health care, address the root causes of mental health struggles, and recognize the importance of checking on and supporting one another. If you or a loved one are in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, please know that your life matters and that you are not alone.”
Take a moment to review the warning signs for suicide, as provided by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Be sure to get help for yourself or others if you see the signs. You may save a life.
According to AFSP, something to look out for when concerned that a person may be suicidal is a change in behavior or the presence of entirely new behaviors. This is of sharpest concern if the new or changed behavior is related to a painful event, loss, or change. Most people who take their lives exhibit one or more warning signs, either through what they say or what they do.
Warning sign: Talk
If a person talks about:
Having no reason to live
Being a burden to others
Warning sign: Behavior
Behaviors that may signal risk, especially if related to a painful event, loss or change:
Increased use of alcohol or drugs
Looking for a way to end their lives, such as searching online for methods
Withdrawing from activities
Isolating from family and friends
Sleeping too much or too little
Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
Giving away prized possessions
Warning sign: Mood
People who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods:
Loss of interest
For local, state, and national resources, visit The Sophie Fund’s suicide prevention page.
If you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can call or text the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 9-8-8, or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.