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Life-saving Advice for Suicide Prevention From Public Health Experts

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When a person commits suicide, family members are often left wondering how they could have saved their loved one’s life. 

Because suicide is often treated as taboo, there’s a misunderstanding of who is at risk and how to save lives, said Judith Harrington, a counselor and associate professor at the University of Montevallo. But signs of suicide can also be subtle and easy to miss, even in close relationships.

[Related: Proposed Waiting Period Law for Firearms Aims to Save Lives of Suicidal Alabamians]

Using QPR, which stands for “question, persuade, refer,” public and mental health experts aim to identify and address suicidal ideation. 

Question

“One of the most important things is directly asking someone if they’re considering killing themselves,” said David Coombs, president of the ASPRC.

“The main thing is not to say something like, ‘You’re not thinking of suicide, are you?’ Because that begs for a no answer.” 

Coombs said being this direct may be awkward, but even when people say no, they are appreciative of the concern and open up about other issues. 

Persuade

If someone says yes, getting that person to accept the idea of getting better and getting professional help is the next step.

“Tell them, ‘You can get past these suicidal feelings,’” Coombs said. 

Data supports this, showing severe suicidal ideation is temporary (though may return for brief periods during a person’s life), and that a disruption in someone’s thinking or planning — something as simple as asking the question — opens a door for the person to seek life-saving help.

Refer

Though Alabama lacks mental health providers in many of its rural counties, there are treatment options with the department of public health and private providers in all urban areas. 

For help locating providers:

A statewide hotline is available at 1-800-273-TALK

The Crisis Center of Birmingham offers a hotline at 205-323-7777

Do not leave someone who is acutely suicidal alone.

Key statistics in understanding who is at risk

Suicide is a major public health crisis, according to the National Institute of Mental Health:

  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people under 34 
  • It’s the fourth leading cause of death for people between the ages of 35 to 54
  • Suicidal ideation impacts people across socioeconomic, racial and gender demographics

Both nationally and here in Alabama, the majority of completed suicides are by white men:

  • White men account for 70% of national suicide deaths
  • White men account 90% of Alabama’s suicide deaths
  • Men are 3.5 times more likely to die by suicide than women, but women report and are treated for attempts 1.4 times as often than men.

 The majority of suicides are carried out by firearms: 

 Surviving a suicide attempt:

  •  90% of people who survive a suicide attempt do not go on to die by suicide
  •  15% of people who attempt suicide with a gun survive

The majority of firearm deaths in the U.S. are suicide

  • 60% of firearm deaths are suicide 
  • 37% of firearm deaths are murder
  • 3% of firearm deaths are accidents

Identifying who is at risk

Learn more about these warning signs at Suicide Is Preventable.

  • Talking about death or suicide
  • Reckless behavior
  • Getting affairs in order
  • Changes in sleep
  • Feeling hopeless, desperate or trapped
  • Sudden mood changes
  • Feeling like a burden to others
  • No sense of purpose
  • Increased drug or alcohol abuse
  • Anxiety or agitation
  • Uncontrolled anger

Suicide prevention firearm safety

“When someone is in crisis, get the guns out of the household,” Coombs said. “Or make them temporarily much less accessible.”

If someone in the home is suicidal, the safest place for a firearm is outside the home with a trusted friend or family member.

If you need the firearm in your home, use these safety precautions:

  • Store firearms and ammunition separately
  • Lock firearms in a safe or with a trigger lock mechanism

If you or someone you know is suffering from suicidal ideation, call the national suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255. To learn the full QPR program, contact the Alabama Suicide Prevention and Resources Coalition.

This story was produced in conjunction with AL.com. It is part of the JJIE’s project on targeting gun violence. Support is provided by The Kendeda Fund. The JJIE is solely responsible for the content and maintains editorial independence.

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