September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day

Zero Suicide Project

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.

In fact, the entire month of September is dedicated to raising public awareness about suicide prevention. This week suicide prevention will trend on social media and be addressed at community events.

Hopefully these activities will have some impact. However, the reality is that public concern generally rises only when a suicide draws a lot of attention, such as the death of Robin Williams did around this time last year. Apathy typically returns after a few days or weeks until the next time we lose a well-known person or there is a high profile suicide in the community.

There are a number of reasons for the lack of ongoing community support of suicide prevention. Here are three:

  1. Suicide is stigmatized; this keeps many people from considering helping to prevent suicide, let alone getting personally involved in helping a friend in need.
  2. Misconceptions about suicide sometimes lead to lack of sympathy for people who consider or act on suicidal urges.
  3. Some people incorrectly believe that suicide is not preventable.

What can we do? The usual answer is big programs, but there small-scale options close at hand.

Here are some “must-do’s”:

  • Immediately call 9-1-1 if someone threatening to kill herself or himself is armed with a lethal weapon, has other lethal means at hand, or has begun a lethal suicide attempt.
  • Immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) if someone is threatening to kill herself or himself, if someone is looking for ways to kill herself or himself, or is talking about suicide or wanting to die.
  • Get help from your local mental health emergency service (can’t find one? don’t have one in your community? Call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-8255) for anyone voicing hopelessness, a sense of not belonging, or losing control, or who is withdrawing from family and friends or who has dramatic changes in mood.
  • Understand that anyone who has made a suicide attempt is at high risk and may need a lot of support and perhaps counseling to cope with the aftermath.

Here are some “should-do’s”:

  • Urge primary care physicians to post the warning signs of suicide in their exam rooms and to screen patients for depression and suicide risk
  • Contact local police about disposing of unnecessary firearms; secure any firearms in the home in tamper-proof gun cabinets or safes
  • Encourage posting suicide prevention information where alcohol is sold as alcohol use is involved in one-third or more of all suicides

And here are some “could-do’s”:

  • Speak out against media coverage of suicides that gives unnecessary and potentially harmful references to the means, site, and rationale for the act.
  • Request that web sites for high risk groups (e.g., veterans, police officers, substance abusers, abuse victims, etc.) post the National Suicide Lifeline and Veterans Crisis Line (800-273-8255)
  • Ask what programs for the elderly are doing to make their staff, residents, and family members aware of suicide risk in the aged, particularly in older men

All of these are do-able steps that you can take without even leaving home. None require special training or a committee. They only require that you care. Suicide prevention must be everybody’s business, all the time.

Every day can be suicide prevention day.


MCES_200x90Special thanks to Tony Salvatore, Development/Suicide Prevention/Crisis Intervention, Montgomery County Emergency Service, Norristown, PA, for this article. Some changes were made from his original version.