Monday, September 21, 2015


Opening the discussion on suicide

Ever since the tragic suicide of beloved actor and comedian Robin Williams last year, the discussion about this previously taboo subject has opened up. It seems that everyone knows someone personally who has committed suicide.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collects data about mortality in the United States, including deaths by suicide. In 2013 (the most recent year for which full data are available), 41,149 suicides were reported, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans. In that year, someone in the country died by suicide every 12.8 minutes.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and a good source for information on suicide is the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). The mission of this organization is understanding and preventing suicide through research, education, and advocacy.

People who kill themselves exhibit one or more warning signs, either through what they say or what they do. The more warning signs, the greater the risk. Here are suicide warning signs, from the AFSP website.

If a person talks about:

• Killing themselves.
• Having no reason to live.
• Being a burden to others.
• Feeling trapped.
• Unbearable pain.

A person’s suicide risk is greater if a behavior is new or has increased, especially if it’s related to a painful event, loss, or change.

• Increased use of alcohol or drugs.
• Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online for materials or means.
• Acting recklessly.
• 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.
• Aggression.

People who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods:

• Depression.
• Loss of interest.
• Rage.
• Irritability.
• Humiliation.
• Anxiety.

I recently took a suicide prevention training class called QPR Training, offered by South Eastern Regional Action Council (SERAC). QPR stands for Question-Persuade-Refer.

An attendee at the training asked, “Will asking someone if they are considering suicide plant the idea in their mind?” The QPR trainers explained studies show that people do not start thinking about suicide just because someone asks them about it. If you suspect a friend or loved one is suicidal, tell them that you are worried and want to help them. Don’t be afraid to question whether they are considering suicide, and if they have a specific plan in mind. Having a plan may indicate that they are farther along and need help right away. Sometimes people who are thinking about suicide won’t tell you so because they don’t want you to stop them. Your direct, non-judgmental questions can encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings.

Regardless of their response, if you suspect that the person may be suicidal, the next step is to persuade them to seek professional help, and ultimately, to refer the person to emergency services.

What should I do if I am worried about someone who seems suicidal?

• If you are in a life-threatening situation, call 911.
• In Connecticut, if you or someone else is in crisis, call 211, and press 1 for emergency crisis intervention. Someone is available to talk 24/7, as this line is a suicide prevention hotline.
• Outside of Connecticut, if you or someone else is in crisis, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

For more info on this subject, visit

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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