Suicide and Suicide Prevention

April 25, 2017

Suicide and Suicide Prevention

by Ian D Scofield

Suicide has been a major issue around the world recently.  Working in the hospital world, I have seen many people who have tried it or considered trying it.  While the World Health Organization estimates that around 1 million people commit suicide every year, that doesn't include attempts or the number of people who seriously consider it.

Before we go any further, I want to make a note that I am not a medical or psychology professional.  I am working with experience and research.

 There is no restriction to who can commit suicide.  From students to first responders many different suicides have made the news recently.  Today's article is going to focus on suicide prevention and how you can be a part of that as a first responder.

Where To Start

Treat all threats of suicide as if they are real, no matter if the person retracts their statement.

Suicide is a big issue, in many cases you will be dealing with life and death straight off the bat.  Being prepared is the first step to handling any call regarding suicidal ideation.  Knowing stress relief tips such as those here will come in handy.

You should also be extremely familiar with the local laws and policies regarding suicidal ideation and attempts.  These cases can be very difficult.  What you do in the field can work to better the experience for the individual when they get to the hospital.

Signs and Symptoms of Suicidal Ideation

There are many different signs and symptoms for suicidal ideation but looking for these will help you to identify it in the field.  Some of them are obvious while others are not.

  • Talking about death, wanting to die
  • Stating there is no reason to life/living
  • Expressing feeling empty
  • Expressing feeling hopeless
  • Significant changes in routine, especially negative ones
  • Increased alcohol usage
  • Drug usage/abuse
  • Sudden risky behavior
  • Trapped feeling
  • Sudden rage or angry feelings
  • Sudden need to part with significant possessions
  • Making a will
  • Online searches for suicidal plans
  • Creating a suicide plan

What Puts Someone At Risk For Suicide

Just like with the number of signs and symptoms for suicide, there are a lot of risk factors for suicide.  A lot of the factors have to do with mental health and go beyond standard depression like a lot of people tend to think.

A big cause of suicide in minors is bullying.  This was recently highlighted in the Netflix Original 13 Reasons Why.  Stopping bullying when you see it is important.

Chronic pain is another reason that someone might want to commit suicide.  Here are a few other risk factors:

  • Substance and prescription abuse
  • Mental conditions
  • Abuse (both sexual and physical)
  • Family history of suicide

What To Do

At all times you should follow department policy and procedure but here are some general tips about what to do when you encounter someone you think might be suicidal.

Start by being safe.  Suicidal ideation is sometimes paired with homicidal ideation and your safety should always be your first concern.  Assess the scene and determine if there are any threats.  Remove those threats if you can.

The highest priority during a call for someone who might be suicidal is keeping the individual safe.  This might mean taking the person into protective custody.

Listen and be there.  Whether you are taking the person to the hospital, a mental health facility, or have another plan, the number one way to prevent suicide is to listen and be there for the person.  According to the National Institutes of Health, talking about suicide with a person can actually reduce ideation instead of increase it.

Suicide Prevention Resources

Because the exact resources of a specific area vary greatly, I have found some of the best national level suicide prevention resources.  Your department may have additional resources available.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is one of the best resources out there.  To help those who are having suicidal thoughts, the lifeline is available 24/7 by phone at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).  A chat service is also available through their website. 

For officers in the field, Medline Plus is a great government website for identifying the effects of medication if you come across someone who may have attempted suicide.  This only works if you have the label or name of the medication.  There are also apps you can get that help you identify medication by the appearance of a pill.

There are many other resources available on the internet to help with prevention.  A simple Google search will turn them up.  Here are a few others:

Prepare Outreach

Talk with your department and see if there is a way that you can create a suicide prevention outreach program in your department.  There are multiple days in the year that are great to host suicide prevention information.  For example, World Suicide Prevention Day is September 10th.  There are also days like Survivor Day.

Where To Go If You Have Questions

Suicide is a tough issue to deal with and there will be times when you come about questions or situations that you don't know how to handle.  The best thing to do is to ensure that you have as much training as you possibly have.  If you encounter a situation, make sure to utilize the resources you have learned about in this article.

For non-time sensitive questions to get more education there are two resources that you can try going to.  One is obvious, contact your training officer (or one of them if you are in a big department) in your department.

Your other option is to contact a social worker at your local hospital.  Social workers may not be able to give medical advice (especially over the phone) but they can direct you in the right direction.

I know that this week's topic is very serious and very dark but it is a topic that needs to be addressed around the country, and around the world.  With the recent release of 13 Reasons Why there has been a lot of talk about suicide and the causes.  I hope the information here has helped to prepare you.

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