Guest Columnist

Suicide prevention and the holiday season

(image via Foundation 2 Facebook page)
(image via Foundation 2 Facebook page)

Throughout the holiday season, we hear from friends, family and others in the community about how stressful it must be working at a crisis prevention agency during this time of year. They ask how it is to hear from people who are sad and may be thinking about suicide.

Suicide rates remain fairly stable throughout the year, and it is a myth that rates increase significantly during the November-December holidays. A 2017 article by the Annenberg Foundation stated that nearly 66 percent of the newspaper stories linking the holidays and suicide over the 2016-17 holiday season supported a false connection. “According to new information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2015 November and December were the two lowest months (12th and 11th, respectively) in average suicide deaths per day, and January was ninth.” The article also noted that May, July and March (in this order) had the highest daily average suicide rates.

Even though statistics can drive suicide prevention efforts, it is important to think about each person who may be struggling with thoughts of suicide. We need to see them as individual humans and outside of their statistical risk factors. Continuing to provide support throughout the year is very important.

Last fiscal year Foundation 2 received 6,996 contacts from people with thoughts of suicide or concerned about someone who was suicidal. We received 31,019 contacts to our crisis center, and responded to 2,318 crisis chat or text messages from those seeking emotional support. Our mobile crisis outreach counselors responded to 1,943 dispatches in the community from those in need of immediate face-to-face crisis support and those numbers continue to increase. We are here to help, regardless of the time of year.

Risk factors that increase the likelihood of a person dying by suicide include:

• Prior suicide attempt(s)

• Misuse and abuse of alcohol or other drugs.

• Mental disorders, particularly depression and other mood disorders.

• Access to lethal means.

• Knowing someone who died by suicide, particularly a family member.

• Social isolation.

• Chronic disease and disability.

• Lack of access to behavioral health care.

Risk factors can vary by age group, culture, sex, and other characteristics. Other risk factors include:

• Stress resulting from prejudice and discrimination (family rejection, bullying, violence) is a known risk factor for suicide attempts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth.

• Historical trauma suffered by American Indians and Alaska Natives (resettlement, destruction of cultures and economies) contributes to the high suicide rate in this population.

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• For men in the middle years, stressors that challenge traditional male roles, such as unemployment and divorce, have been identified as important risk factors.

Warning Signs are what we may observe in someone and may mean someone is at immediate or serious risk for suicide. Risk is greater if a behavior is new or has increased and if it seems related to a painful event, loss, or change. Warning signs include:

• Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself.

• Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online or buying a gun.

• Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.

• Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.

• Talking about being a burden to others.

• Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.

• Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.

• Sleeping too little or too much.

• Withdrawing or feeling isolated.

• Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.

• Displaying extreme mood swings.

If you know someone who may be showing warning signs and you are concerned that person may have thoughts of suicide be brave and simply ask the question, “Are you thinking about suicide?” If they say no, you have demonstrated that you care and are a supportive person in their life. If they respond with yes, listen to their story and connect them to help.

Foundation 2 offers a crisis hotline that is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Crisis line alternatives include chat and text support. Mobile crisis outreach counselors can be on-site to support a person or group in approximately an hour (distance and weather conditions can impact dispatch time).

Everyone plays a role in suicide prevention, and your support can make all the difference to someone in crisis. For more information visit www.Foundation2.org/suicide.

• Elisabeth Kissling is marketing director for Foundation 2 and Cheryl Plotz is program manager at the Foundation 2 Crisis Center in Cedar Rapids.

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