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    Preventing Suicide

    By Nicole Hamilton, MS 

    Suicide prevention has become both a national and worldwide focus (International Association for Suicide Prevention [IASP], 2011; World Health Organization [WHO], 2011). Over 3,000 people end their lives each day worldwide, with an additional 300 individuals who make unsuccessful suicide attempts. The WHO (2011) and the IASP (2011) have declared September 10 as World Suicide Prevention Day to bring public attention to understanding the issue of suicide and the multidisciplinary efforts in suicide prevention. In the United States, preventing suicide has clearly become a national effort, with suicide remaining to be the eleventh leading cause of death for Americans (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [HHS], 2010). Therefore, understanding both the signs and preventions of suicide can help reduce this major and preventable problem.

    Understanding Suicide 

    Suicide has shown increases in statistics reported over the last 10 years (American Foundation, 2011). During this time period, rates have increased in the United States, with more than 34,000 people committing suicide each year. To put this into a clearer perspective, the CDC (2010a). and the HHS (2010) have stated some alarming facts about suicide in the United States: 

    • The most recent data reports a 3 percent increase in suicide since 2007, across age, gender, and ethnicity.
    • Individuals from ages 25–85 have shown increases in suicide, however individuals in the 10–24 age group have significantly increased, making suicide the second leading cause of death for this group.
    • Males are more four times more likely to die from suicide than females due to more aggressive means.
    •  Suicide appears to be highest for American Indians/Alaska Natives.

    Why are these statistics important?  

    First, there is a common concern for those who attempt suicide but are unsuccessful in the attempt (CDC, 2010b). Some studies indicate that more individuals survive suicide attempts. In fact, attempts are about 10 to 20 times more frequent than suicide itself (Beautrais & Mishara, 2007). These statistics should not be ignored, however, as a suicide attempt is a strong indicator that the person is experiencing distress and suffering. Furthermore, these individuals can face a multitude of long-lasting health problems due to the attempt. This includes brain damage, organ failure, broken bones, and even long-term medical care. 

    Secondly, these statistics also affect the overall community (CDC, 2010a, IASP, 2011). Rising economic health costs in the United States have been estimated to be billions of dollars (Beautrais & Mishara, 2007). There is also a need for emergent care for the self-injured and treatments to help those who survive. Most importantly, the burden of suicide, on average, will affect at least six other individuals in that person’s life (WHO, 2011). If a suicide occurs in a school or workplace, it can have a profound effect on hundreds of people. In addition, those bereaved by suicide may also experience a serious, long-lasting emotional impact of suffering and affliction.

    The Warning Signs of Suicide 

    Most individuals will show some warning signs of suicide. Recognizing these warning signs is a first step in prevention to help reduce the aforementioned burdens (CDC, 2010a). It must be noted that many individuals experience parallel stressors in their life, but suicide and suicidal behavior is not a normal or healthy response. This makes the recognition of the warning signs an important step that can allow for preventable measures to take place to help another person. 

    A major warning sign of suicide includes prior suicide attempts and a history of depression, other mental health illnesses, or alcohol and drug abuse (Kapur, 2009; HHS, 2011). Most commonly, there may be a combination of mental illness and drug abuse. In addition, family history of suicide or family abuse as well as possible exposure to suicidal behavior (CDC, 2010b) can be a factor. The individual may have easier access to lethal weapons, including firearms or toxic substances.  There may also be a noticeable difference in stressful life events in the person’s work life, bereavement, financial status, or family disturbances.

    Feelings of hopelessness are a warning sign that can come in many forms in the person’s daily life (WHO, 2011). Hopelessness can be verbal, in that the individual may express a want to die or no longer having a reason to live. These feelings can also take the form of behavioral changes in one’s life, including lack of participation in usual daily activities, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, or care of one’s self (HHS, 2011).

    The most imminent danger of suicide is if the individual has planned or prepared for the process (CDC, 2010b, HHS, 2011). This may be through the intention of accessing lethal weapons or discussions of when and how to complete the task (Gliatto & Rai, 1999). Such plans may include getting personal affairs in order or finding ways of saying goodbye. These warning signs should be taken seriously, particularly when an individual becomes preoccupied with death by either verbalizing or writing out their plans.

    Suicide Preventive Strategies 

    Suicide is considered to be preventable (HHS, 2010). However, the preventions are vast, with numerous warning signs for various individuals. The IASP (2011) and the WHO (2011), in addition to the AFSP (2011) and the CDC (2010b), have made it a goal to assess the prevention strategies most successful to reduce suicide. The following are helpful preventions that anyone can utilize:

    • Talk to the person about the warning signs: Most people are nervous about bringing up the topic of suicide and it can be difficult for the person experiencing the warning signs to express his or her feelings. However, discussing the thoughts of that person can alleviate some fear of feeling alone and can allow for their feelings to be discussed, which could even help prevent a suicide attempt.
    • Report and respond immediately: When the warning signs of suicide appear to be high (having an action plan to show direct intention or access to lethal means), then immediate action is necessary. Urgent action includes calling 911 or immediately taking that person to the emergency room. Also, any access to the lethal means must be alleviated and the person should not be left alone. However, if the warning signs appear to put the person at a lower risk of an attempt then there are many resources that are available. One such source is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, available by both phone and Internet. This information, in addition to a list of other helpful resources, is listed below.
    • Offer Support: Support comes in many forms, but most importantly listen to the person and take their pain seriously. The person might require professional help through counseling, support programs, treatment facilities, safety plans when in a crisis, and overall long-term support.

    Preventing suicide is a multifaceted approach that requires the knowledge of understanding suicide, the warning signs, and various prevention strategies. Suicide prevention also includes the involvement of the community, family and friends, and outside sectors of government and health agencies. This is not a small task; however, the more that suicide awareness information is disseminated among the public then the more collaboration and guidance exists in preventing suicide. 

    Resources for Suicide Prevention 



    American Foundation for Suicide Prevention [AFSP]. (2011). Facts and figures. Retrieved from http://www.afsp.org/understanding-suicide/facts-and-figures 

    Beautrais, A., Mishara, B. (2007). Suicide prevention across the lifespan. Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, 28(2), 57-60. doi:10.1027/0227-5910.28.2.57

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (2010a). Understanding suicide fact sheet. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/Suicide-FactSheet-a.pdf 

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (2010b). Preventing suicide. Retrieved from http://cdc.gov/features/PreventingSuicide/   

    Gliatto, M.F., & Rai, A.K. (1999). Evaluation and treatment of patients with suicidal ideation. American Family Physician, 59(6), 1500-1506Retrieved from http://www.aafp.org/afp.org/afp/990315ap/1500.html 

    International Association for Suicide Prevention [IASP]. (2011). World suicide prevention day. Retrieved from http://www.iasp.info/wspd/ 

    Kupur, N. (2009). Health services and suicide prevention. Journal of Mental Health, 18(1), 1–5. doi:10.1080/09698230802370704

    U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health. (2010). Suicide in the U.S.: Statistics and prevention. (NIH Publication No. 06-4594). Retrieved fromhttp://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/suicide-in-the-us-statistics-and-prevention/index.shtml 

    U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health. (2011).Suicide: A major, preventable mental health problem. Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/suicide-a-major-preventable-mental-health-problem-fact-sheet/suicide-a-major-preventable-mental-health-problem.shtml 

    World Health Organization [WHO]. (2011). Suicide prevention (SUPRE). Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/suicideprevent/en/ 


    CPS - Nicole Hamilton Headshot 

    Nicole Hamilton, MS 

    Nicole Hamilton has been working in college education for over 7 years and is a current adjunct faculty member at Kaplan University who has taught courses in General Psychology, Research Methods, Exceptional Needs Children, and Cognitive-Behavioral Theory. She also teaches psychology courses at St. Philips College in San Antonio, Texas. Previously working in the field of psychology, she was able to experience counseling in many different programs with children and adolescents. This included: a county juvenile facility, Parent-Child Incorporated, the public school system, and clinical work. However, Ms. Hamilton was drawn to education because of her passion for teaching, researching, and lifelong learning. 

    Ms. Hamilton received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Texas at San Antonio and her Master of Science from Our Lady of the Lake University. She is currently completing her dissertation from Capella University for a PhD in General Psychology.

    Outside of work, Ms. Hamilton is married with a 4-year-old daughter and is expecting a son. She enjoys spending time with her family, reading, and watching good movies.

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