What to think about in September, an important focus this month: Suicide prevention

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Jorie Allison and Paige Dwyer

Suicide Prevention Awareness Week starts September fourth and ends September tenth. However, Suicide Prevention Month lasts all of September. Dealing with suicide feels lonely, but the mounds of research and help available give students hope to not feel alone

September is Suicide Prevention Month, a month of learning, recognizing warning signs, and providing resources for people in need. Over 733,230 people worldwide have committed suicide this year. 

Suicide is the 12th leading cause of death in the U.S., the third leading cause of death for people ages 10–14, and the second leading cause of death for individuals ages 15–24. About 45,979 people died by suicide in 2020, around 125 deaths per day. In comparison, about 1.2 Million people attempted suicide alone that year. 

 

 

Information collected at https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db398.htm

 

 

 

 

Kim Sellers, Social Emotional Health Coordinator, works to normalize “it’s ok to not be ok” through education and awareness through groups like Hope Squad.

“We have policies and procedures in place for students expressing suicidal ideation. All staff is trained on how to recognize warning signs, how to respond, and how to get the student to their school counselor or another school mental health professional. From there, our entire school counseling team, as well as our school-based therapist [through Beech Acres] are trained using the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS) to determine suicide risk. If a student is determined to be at risk, parents are immediately contacted and resources are provided,” Sellers said.

An important first step in suicide prevention is recognizing the warning signs and knowing how to respond to them. Warning signs of suicide include: talking about suicide, looking for access to guns, pills, knives, etc., having a preoccupation with death, sudden mood swings or personality changes, hopelessness, self-loathing/hatred, neglecting appearance, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, saying goodbye, withdrawal and isolation, self-destructive behavior, and joking about death.

There are ways to help with suicide prevention.

If someone is worried about an individual they’re encouraged to speak up and start a conversation. Melissa Covarrubias, Behavioral Health Counselor at the Center for Healthy Living (CHL) suggests starting a conversation with a question that reflects concern. For example, “You haven’t seemed like yourself lately, I wanted to check in,” or, “How are you doing? I’ve noticed some changes in you and want to be sure you’re OK.”

Remind them that they aren’t alone and people are there for them. HelpGuide offers the following suggested questions to ask to help assess the immediate risk of suicide: Do you have a suicide plan, do you have what you need to carry out your plan, do you know when you would do it, do you intend to take your own life?

HelpGuide provides useful information on determining the level of risk. Low: Some suicidal thoughts, no suicide plan, says they won’t attempt suicide. Moderate: Suicidal thoughts, vague plan, says they won’t attempt suicide. High: Suicidal thoughts, specific plan, says they won’t attempt suicide. Severe: Suicidal thoughts, specific plan, says they will attempt suicide.

“If a student is determined to be at imminent or high risk, we work with the parents/caregivers to have the child evaluated through MRSS (Mobile Crisis Stabilization Services) or PIRC (Psychiatric Intake Response Center) at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. They then determine if there is a need for hospitalization or safety planning with the family. We work closely with families and outside agencies to ensure there is a smooth transition back to school for the child to help accommodate getting them caught up,” Sellers said.

Erin Horn, Hope squad leader and 1N5 member, works to help people know about the strategies and actions to help prevent suicide.

“We [1N5] practice an upstream approach to suicide prevention. We are focused on sharing information and messaging around stories of hope, where and how to get help, and how to practice the strengths that help us navigate the ups and downs of life,” Horn said.

Experts agree that trying to help a suicidal person can be emotionally challenging. While trying to offer support, remember not to create responsibility for making the individual feel better. Support can be provided, but only the person in question can decide to try to get help and commit to treatment and/or therapy.

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) offers ways to support: Help find professional help for the individual and encourage them to see someone. Be proactive about reaching out don’t wait for the person to call or ask for help. Stop by to visit, keep calling, and invite the person out for dinner or even a walk. Make a safety plan. Assist in developing a plan for the individual so they can identify triggers and follow the steps that are determined to be most helpful. Include contact numbers for the individual’s therapist (if applicable), crisis center hotline, Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and other contacts who can help in an emergency. Continue supporting the individual long-term. Keep in touch, periodically stop by to visit, call to check in, and remind the individual that there is hope.

Additional information can be found on the webpage After an Attempt a guide provided by the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which provides helpful information for those who attempted suicide as well as those supporting them.

Sellers’ goal is to get involved, during September when the focus is on raising awareness for suicide prevention, it’s easier for individuals to join in to support those around them and their communities. However, that support is needed all year long regardless of whether an individual is directly helping someone in need.

“My main goal is to continue to expand our comprehensive mental health programming and ensure that our students’ emotional and mental health needs are met. That includes some Tier I, Universal programming we are expanding, as well as prevention and education. I also want to expand and enhance our staff’s training and professional development at Kings,” Sellers said.

The education that Sellers provides involves a variety of mental health training, trauma training, and supporting students in crisis all provided to the teachers. 

On July 16, the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline went into effect. Dialing 988 allows anyone who is feeling suicidal to get immediate support. Support can also be found by contacting a local health care provider, mental health counselor, clergyman, or close family member or friend.

No one is alone.