By Liam Rockwell
This September, people all across the world were encouraged to address a topic that may be difficult for some people to discuss. And although suicide is an issue that effects communities year-round, every September the issue gets a little more limelight. While that’s amazing in and of itself, Suicide Prevention Month generally doesn’t manifest through dramatically lower suicide rates. In fact, from 2000-2022, death-by-suicide rates rose by over 35%. So what can we as individuals do during not just September but during every month in order to help prevent suicide?
In the first place, it’s important to understand the warning signs that often lead to suicide, and arguably even more importantly, why they may lead to suicide. For example, having a family history of suicide is a commonly discussed warning sign, but what isn’t commonly discussed is how some scientists believe that this is because of the chemistry of suicidal behavior such as the genetics of serotonin; and some believe it has nothing to do with genetics but that when, from a young age, people learn about their family members who committed suicide, they are subconsciously taught that suicide is what mental illnesses must lead to.
Another warning sign is if you know someone is struggling with suicidal thoughts and suddenly their mood greatly improves. A lot of people (understandably) would read this as a good sign that life is getting better for them. In reality, a lot of times this mood change can indicate that they have made a set decision to kill themselves, and this decision has alleviated some pain they have been feeling.
There is a common belief that people who often bring up suicide and talk about killing themselves aren’t the people who end up actually killing themselves. This is a horrendous misconception. In actuality, a lot of people suffering from suicidal thoughts talk about killing themselves, however joking they may seem, as a cry for help. Oftentimes when something is on a person’s mind they are more likely to talk about it in various contexts. So if that made you think about a certain friend of yours who often jokes about killing themselves, have a chat with them and ask if they are okay.
On that note, there is also a misconception that talking about suicide with someone you worry about somehow entertains suicide as an option for them and encourages them to attempt. This train of thought is dangerous, because talking about suicide with people you are concerned may be suicidal actually provides an oppurtunity for communication. Furthermore, talking about suicide with someone who is suicidal is often the first step in convincing them not to go through with it.
If you know someone that is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please know that the person’s life is more important than the promises you’ve made to them. For example, if you know of an unopened letter or cassette tape that you have promised them not to open or listen to, and you have a suspiscion that it concerns a potential suicide, breaking your promise is the greatest thing you can do for that person.
Moreover, if you made a promise not to tell anybody about that person’s suicidal thoughts, and you are growing more and more concerned and you feel like someone needs to know, what you should do next depends on other details of the situation. A lot of suicidal people would ask of you not to tell that persons parents or guardians for very legitamate reasons. If you know that their parents or guardians are loving, supportive, etc. and you know that telling them will help that person recover, then you should definitely tell them, even though it may not feel right breaking a promise. You should not tell their parents or guardians if you don’t know about your friend’s relationship with them or you know them to be unsupportive, abusive, etc.
In any situation, you should strongly consider calling a suicide prevention hotline and telling them about the situation, but if you choose to do this, please do meticulous research on what hotline you’re calling. The most well-known and full-scale suicide prevention hotline, the recently launched Suicide & Crisis Lifeline (or 988), has garnered criticism for the potential risks of police involvement and clients being involuntarily sent to psychiatric hospitals.
Most importantly, if you have a loved one that is having suicidal thoughts, or if you just want to do whatever you can to support suicide prevention, you should do as much research and learn as much as you can about the topic as possible.
Below is a list of suicide prevention lifelines based in and around the Bay Area. Please give one of them a call if you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or if you know someone who is.
SF County Department of Public Health, Community Behavioral Health Services
(IOA) The Friendship Line
San Francisco Suicide Prevention
Family Service Agency of the Central Coast