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  • Writer's pictureJorge Petit

Breaking the Stigma: Talking About Suicide Awareness and Prevention

SAMHSA September Suicide Prevention Awareness Month logo

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, a time for reflection on the lives lost to suicide and the countless lives impacted by suicide. It's an opportunity to emphasize the ongoing need for education, awareness, and most importantly, hope. However, addressing this crisis isn't confined to a single month—it demands sustained efforts to improve access to timely and affordable behavioral health supports, services, and treatments.

In my professional journey, in whatever setting I have been in, the gravity of suicide and suicidal ideation have remained a constant. Suicide can affect anyone, regardless of age or gender; racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic background; education, employment, or marital status, but in my estimation, what is most tragic, is that it too often is the result of an untreated, under-treated or undiagnosed behavioral health condition.

Suicide is an alarming public health crisis—claiming over 48,000 lives in 2021—but that is just the tip of the iceberg. It is estimated that 12.3 million adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.5 million made a plan, and 1.7 million attempted suicide in 2021. These statistics reveal a deeply concerning trend, emphasizing the urgent need for action and intervention. Moreover, specific vulnerable groups, such as like middle-aged and older men, young American Indian men and young men living in Alaska, as well as other marginalized groups, such as those that are justice involved, LGBTQ+ and veterans, require our heightened attention, necessitating comprehensive efforts to mitigate risk factors and bolster resilience and hope. [Sources: CDC, NIMH, AFSP, SAMHSA]

Throughout my years of direct clinical service, I've grappled with the multifaceted aspects of suicide. A month of awareness and prevention is insufficient when the stakes are so high. We must amplify our efforts because viable options and resources exist that can positively impact individuals, families, and communities.

In my experience, there are several actions we can all take, even without a professional background in behavioral health, that can have a huge impact.

1. Educate. Educate yourself and others on suicide and behavioral health conditions, fostering greater awareness and understanding. Be aware and familiarize yourself with the risks and warning signs associated with suicide in both adults and youth.

Suicide Warning Signs for Adults

  • Talking about or making plans for suicide.

  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.

  • Talking about being a burden to others.

  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.

  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs.

  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live

  • Sleeping too little or too much.

  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated.

  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.

  • Displaying extreme mood swings.

[List from SAMHSA]

Suicide Warning Signs for Youth

  • Talking about or making plans for suicide.

  • Expressing hopelessness about the future.

  • Displaying severe/overwhelming emotional pain or distress.

  • Showing worrisome changes in behavior, particularly in combination with the warning signs above, including significant:

- Withdrawal from or changing social connections/situations.

- Changes in sleep (increased or decreased).

- Anger or hostility that seems out of character or out of context.

- Recent increased agitation or irritability.

2. Talk. Talk to your children, your friends, and coworkers about wellness, wellbeing and inquire how they are doing. Asking someone in distress if they are having suicidal ideation will not precipitate a suicide attempt. Chances are they will be relieved, and this can be the first step in getting that person help. We need to express our concern and support to an individual in crisis. Do not ignore or sweep comments about suicidal ideation under the rug.

3. Listen. We need to actively listen to one another. This has gotten so hard, too many distractions, too many apps, too many competing demands. Stop, slow down, focus on what is being said. Look at the person in the eyes, acknowledge them and convey your concern and understanding.

4. Be Present. Offer your physical and emotional presence to those in need, letting them know they are not alone. If safety is a concern, seek immediate help from a mental health professional.

5. Advocate. We all need to strongly advocate for more prevention, education, supports and treatment. We need high quality, affordable, timely access to services that are person-centered and inclusive. Get involved; push for policies that prioritize mental health at federal, state, and local levels, and actively participate in related initiatives that promote overall wellbeing.

Remember, help is available, and no one has to navigate this alone. We can all do our part to make a significant impact on this public health crisis and offer hope to those in need. Together, we can contribute to a brighter future for our communities.

SAMHSA Crisis Lifeline

If You’re in Crisis, Help is Available!

There are options available to help you cope. You can call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at any time to connect with a trained crisis counselor.

For confidential support available 24/7 for everyone in the U.S., call or text 988 or chat at, or visit here.


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