Trauma and Suicide: A Hidden Consequence
For my first-ever blog, on the topic of suicide awareness and prevention, I am honored it’s a part of ECTIC. ECTIC exists to create a bridge to healing by building a supportive, connected community dedicated to enhancing resiliency and reducing the impact of trauma. The timing to discuss the truly traumatic topic of suicide, during National Suicide Prevention Week, (September 8-14th, 2019) couldn't be more fitting. Did you know that on average in the US, there are 129 suicides per day? More startling – in 2017 there were an estimated 1,400,000 suicide attempts in the US. With a little over 327 million people living in the US, and if you averaged out the numbers, that could mean that one person in 244 people are feeling suicidal to the point that they make an attempt in any one year. That’s truly staggering. When you think about how many colleagues you have at work, or how many kids go to your child’s school, or how many people are in your extended family, or how many people you see when out shopping, that 1 in 244 may have felt so overwhelmed, traumatized, worried, hopeless or desperate, that they have made a suicide attempt this year. Then think about those 129 competed suicides each day (47,173 people in 2017) and all of the people they knew, loved, went to school or work with, and how traumatic it is for each of them to have lost someone to suicide, and the impact is unfathomable. How many people are affected, and how many people must wonder what they could have done, to have foreseen such a final action….
Such a final, unfathomable topic feels impossible to impact or address—until we can understand it. When we can understand suicide and trauma, we can impact suicide and trauma. Suicide risk is very complex, and each person’s situation, coping skills, and support systems are very diverse and individualized – so no one thing can be an absolute indicator of suicide risk. However, loss of hope or hopelessness are critical warning signs. If you notice a significant and/or concerning change in a loved ones’ behavior or mood, or if you feel unclear or anxious about some of the comments they may be making, it could be your gut trying to tell you that suicide may be on their mind. In these cases, one of the simplest most straightforward ways to determine if someone is feeling suicidal, is to sincerely, and without judgement, ASK THEM. One of the trainings available on Suicide Prevention is “QPR – Question, Persuade, Refer.” Ask the person and be willing to be present for their response. Hear them and, if they admit this terrible and overwhelming thought resides within them, allow them to speak about their experience. Be the person who can hear the difficult truth they need to tell, so that they can vent some of that pent-up emotion, and then move forward to get help. We seem to have a social taboo around even mentioning the word suicide, and so it may feel really intrusive or awkward when we ask someone about them possibly feeling this way. If you can overcome your own self-consciousness and fears on the topic, you may be able to provide a lifeline to a person who is truly struggling, and who needs you to hear them & understand that in the moment.
If a person admits they are feeling suicidal - get help immediately. Assessment for suicidality is available in behavioral health settings but calling Crisis Services (456-2014) and talking with a trained crisis worker can be the ideal first step. If you’re not in Erie, contact the National Suicide Prevention LifeLine at 1-800-273-TALK (8255); text the word “TALK” to the Crisis Text Line, at 741741. Hospital emergency rooms are equipped to assess for suicidality and to refer to help, and if truly concerned, 911 can be an option. If you yourself are struggling with these thoughts – get help. Talk to someone. Call those numbers. In our darkest moments, it can be easy to believe we are alone, but talking to someone who understands can be an essential game-changer. So much is out there to help us to better understand suicide risk – The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has an amazing website (https://afsp.org/find-support/) with lots of tools, information and resources.
Additionally, Safe Harbor Behavioral Health of UPMC Hamot’s Suicide Prevention Advisory Group will be hosting the 6th Annual Suicide Prevention Conference on Tuesday September 10th from 9am-4pm. The event will be held at the Ambassador Hotel and Conference Center. This year’s theme is Building Stronger Communities: Suicide Prevention, Intervention and Postvention Across the Lifespan. This local conference has been amazing in helping community members to better understand – and work to impact – the incidents of suicide in our community. The registration link, for any interested: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/6th-annual-suicide-prevention-conference-building-stronger-communities-tickets-59968313841
Participate in your community’s suicide awareness efforts (AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Walk at Presque Isle is on Sept 28th); Become involved in ECTIC to promote awareness of trauma and resources to combat its effects on ourselves, our children and our communities; get involved in local organizations, schools and community efforts to promote connectedness; talk to your kids about communicating their feelings and their worries in a healthy way; talk to a person who seems to be alone or afraid; prepare yourself. You don’t know who will need you to be the first person who understands that they are suicidal, and who truly needs your help.