Family members can play a role in suicide prevention

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Tragically, the start of 2022 has been marked by several high-profile suicides. Actors Regina King and Michael Madsen have each lost adult sons. Former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst and Australian Olympic skier Brittany George have committed suicide. And actor Moses J. Moseley died in what police believe was a suspected suicide.

Those lost were between the ages of 24 and 31, an age group that has experienced an increased risk of suicide. According to data from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, suicides increased in all age groups between 2009 and 2018, but in recent years suicide rates among those aged 25 to 44 have exceeded adults aged 65 and over. , which were previously considered more high risk.

For some, the pandemic has made the situation worse. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report in June 2020 showed that one in four people between the ages of 18 and 24 had seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days. And while overall suicide rates have actually gone down since COVID-19, that trend hasn’t held true for younger people: CDC data showed suicide rates rose 5% among older adults. from 25 to 34 years old in 2021.

Factors Influencing Risk in Young Adults

Many factors have long placed young adults at high risk for suicide. Even before the pandemic, they experienced high rates of depression and anxiety, a trend that continued even when COVID-19 cases declined. Those with serious mental illnesses typically first see them manifest between the ages of 18 and 24. Additionally, the freedoms, pressures and temptations of early adulthood are known to exacerbate a range of mental health issues and prolong COVID-19 – the induced periods of isolation and heightened stress arguably played a role. a more recent contributory role.

This combination of factors stirs up understandable feelings of dread and worry in family members who have reason to believe that their loved one is at risk. These families need to understand that suicide is often an impulsive act, which means that if they have the ability to intervene at the right time, they can often help save a life.

What families can do

Perhaps most importantly, family members need to understand what to do in times of crisis. For example, they may have observed that a loved one is extremely depressed and isolated, consuming reading and visual material about incidents of people who have committed suicide, using drugs and/or alcohol heavily, and seeking access to firearms and other weapons. These are all alarm behaviors and may require an emergency call to 9-1-1 or a local mental health crisis team, especially if the person in question has already refused voluntary help.

However, family members must be able to articulate the threat the person poses to themselves so that emergency responders can act. As a mental health advocate, I regularly ask families to write concrete language to keep handy. Key phrases may include: “He is threatening to kill himself”; “She has a suicide plan”; and “He is not taking his prescribed medication for a diagnosed mental illness.”

Such language will hopefully prompt emergency responders to involuntarily hospitalize the person at risk – a decidedly short-term measure that will serve to ensure their safety temporarily. At this point, I urge families to put in place a range of safeguards, such as outpatient treatment and case management, using whatever leverage they have to encourage participation and compliance.

Of course, it can be difficult for family members to understand when such a serious course of action is warranted. People with conditions like depression can worry their families for years, and at-risk, emotionally healthy young adults often use alcohol and drugs recreationally. When offering advice on how to assess suicide risk, I often encourage family members to ask loved ones directly if they are seriously considering suicide and to seek honest answers. Many family members are terrified to bring up this topic, partly out of fear of planting a potentially deadly idea. With guidance, they can usually understand that at-risk loved ones may have already thought about suicide, and silence around the subject is far more deadly.

Much of the dialogue surrounding suicide prevention is about making sure those at risk know that help is available. Offering additional concrete information to family members about what to do in a crisis situation can also help deter these tragic acts.

If you or someone you love is considering suicide, seek help immediately. For 24/7 help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK, or the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. To find a therapist near you , see Psychology Today’s Directory of Therapies.

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