Suicide Awareness and Prevention
“Everyone has to die, but no one has to suicide.”
Suicide awareness is a proactive effort to raise awareness around suicidal behaviors. It is focused on reducing social stigmas and ambiguity, by bringing attention to suicide statistically and sociologically, and encouraging positive dialogue and engagement as a means to prevent suicide.
Suicide awareness is linked to suicide prevention as both address suicide education and the dissemination of information to ultimately decrease the rate of suicide. Awareness is a first stage that can ease the need for prevention. Awareness signifies a fundamental consciousness of the threat, while prevention focuses on stopping the act. Suicide awareness is not a medical engagement, but a combination of medical, social, emotional and financial counseling. Suicide awareness in adolescents focuses on the age group between 10–24 years, beginning with the onset of puberty.
Suicide awareness expresses the need for open constructive dialogue as an initial step towards preventing incidents of adolescent suicide. Once the stigmas have been overcome, there is an increased possibility that education, medical care and support can provide a critical framework for those at risk. Lack of information, awareness of professional services, judgment and insensitivity from religious groups, and financial strain have all been identified as barriers to support access for those youth in suicidal crisis. The critical framework is a necessary component to implementing suicide awareness and suicide prevention, and breaking down these barriers.
Protective factors are characteristics or conditions that may have a positive effect on youth and adults to reduce the possibility of suicide attempts. These factors have not been studied in as much depth as risk factors, so there is less research. They include:
- Receiving effective mental health care.
- Positive social connections and support with family and peers provides coping skills.
- Participation in community and social groups (i.e. religious) that foster resilience.
- Optimism enables youth to engage and acquire adaptive skills in reinterpreting adverse experiences to find meaning and benefit.
- Life satisfaction, spiritual wellbeing and belief that a person can survive beyond their pain is protective against suicide.
- Resiliency based on adaptive coping skills has can reduce suicide risk, and research suggests these skills can be taught.
- Finding hope can be a key protective factor and a catalyst for the recovery process.
It is important to note, however, that in-depth training is paramount for those involved in any service that looks to the awareness and needs of those touched by suicide.
Suicide awareness and prevention have in the past only relied on research from clinical observation. In bringing insights, intimate experience, and real-world wisdom of suicide attempt survivors to the table, professionals, educators, other survivors and suicide attempt survivors can learn firsthand from their “lived experience.”
Media and journalism, when reporting on suicide, have moved forward in their discussion of suicide. The Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide discovered the powerful impact media coverage, newspapers and journalists can have on the perpetuating stigma of suicide, and that it can lead to greater risk of occurrence. The specific rules that media representatives should follow are:
- Don’t sensationalize the suicide.
- Don’t talk about the contents of the suicide note, if there is one.
- Don’t describe the suicide method.
- Report on suicide as a public health issue.
- Don’t speculate why the person might have done it.
- Don’t quote or interview police or first responders about the causes of suicide.
- Describe suicide as “died by suicide” or “completed” or “killed themselves,” rather than “committed suicide.”
- Don’t glamorize suicide.
This is to prevent certain types of messaging around suicide that could increase the chances of at-risk youth considering or attempting suicide. This initiative brought awareness to the sensitivity of reporting on suicide in a constructive, destigmatized method of messaging.
Education in a non-threatening environment is critical to a growth in awareness among adolescents. Health education is closely related to health awareness. School can be the best place to implement a suicide education program because it is the pivotal location that brings together the major influences in an adolescent’s life. Pilot programs for awareness, and coping and resiliency training should be put into place for all adolescent school-aged children to combat life stressors and to encourage healthy communication.
- Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves
- Talking about feeling empty, hopeless, or having no reason to live
- Making a plan or looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching for lethal methods online, stockpiling pills, or buying a gun
- Talking about great guilt or shame
- Talking about feeling trapped or feeling that there are no solutions
- Feeling unbearable pain (emotional pain or physical pain)
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Using alcohol or drugs more often
- Acting anxious or agitated
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Changing eating and/or sleeping habits
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Taking great risks that could lead to death, such as driving extremely fast
- Talking or thinking about death often
- Displaying extreme mood swings, suddenly changing from very sad to very calm or happy
- Giving away important possessions
- Saying goodbye to friends and family
- Putting affairs in order, making a will
If these warning signs apply to you or someone you know, get help as soon as possible, particularly if this unhealthy or unusual behavior is new or has increased recently.