As we approach another holiday season, the annual myth that suicides spike during the holidays starts making the rounds. The truth is, the suicide rate is lowest in December. The rate peaks in the spring and the fall. However, the myth’s very existence makes people more aware of suicide. Awareness combined with information leads to prevention — a place where we all want to be.

Suicide is a serious public health problem that can have lasting, harmful effects on individuals, families, and communities. According to the Washington State Department of Health (DOH), suicide rates in western states are consistently higher than the national rate — 11 percent higher in Washington. Why is not completely clear, but possible reasons may include lack of access to healthcare, residential instability, unemployment, limited economic resources, higher suicide rates in rural areas, social isolation, mental illness, substance abuse and access to firearms.

About 80 percent of people who attempt suicide show some warning signs first. These signs can be acute and urgent, or simply red flags for concern. Individuals in crisis and the people around them can help prevent suicide by recognizing warning signs. But remember — every individual is different. Not all signs apply to all people.

The American Association of Suicidology (suicidology.org/) recommends emergency mental healthcare for someone showing these warning signs:

• Talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide, especially if this is unusual or related to a personal crisis or loss

• Seeking ways to kill themselves (for example, collecting pills or making plans to purchase a weapon during a crisis)

• Direct threats like “I am going to kill myself.”

• Indirect threats like “I can’t do this anymore,” “No one would miss me if I were gone,” or “You have meant a lot to me, please don’t forget me.”  

Warning signs that mean we need more information about a person’s suicide risk include:

• Hopelessness

• Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking

• Withdrawing from friends, family or society

• Dramatic mood changes

• No reason for living; no sense of purpose in life

• Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge

• Feeling trapped — as if there’s no way out

• Increasing alcohol or drug use

• Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all the time

If you know someone in crisis:

The National Institute of Mental Health recommends:

1. Ask if they need help. Ask if they are thinking of killing themselves. This does not increase the risk they will attempt suicide. In fact, asking the direct question can be the best way to identify they are in crisis.

2. Keep them safe. Restrict their access to weapons or dangerous places.

3. Be there. Listen closely to understand what they are thinking and feeling. Research suggests their talking about suicide may reduce their suicidal thoughts.

4. Help them connect. Save the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s phone number – 800-273-8255. Program it into your cell phone and theirs. You can also help them connect with a trusted local resource – family member, friend, spiritual advisor, or mental health professional.

5. Stay connected. Remain in touch after the crisis. Studies show suicide deaths go down when someone follows up with the at-risk person.

If you believe you may be in crisis:

Suicidal thoughts by themselves aren’t dangerous, but how you respond to them can make all the difference. If you are considering suicide, get help as soon as possible.

Contact professional help online, on the phone, or by text. Support resources are listed below.

Tell a friend. Confide in someone and create a support system you can rely on at other times.

Distract yourself. Find something that brings you joy and hold onto it. Go someplace safe. If you feel like you are a danger to yourself, it’s always okay to call 9-1-1 or go to your local hospital emergency department.

For a comprehensive list of professional mental health and behavioral health providers in Lewis County, go to greatriversbho.org/lewis. Veterans can also access providers at the South Sound VA Clinic in Chehalis, or by contacting the Lewis County Veterans Relief Fund at 360-740-1417.

Suicide is a preventable public health problem, not a personal weakness or family failure. Everyone in Lewis County has a role in suicide prevention. Silence, stigma, and myths about suicide harm individuals, families, and communities. People experiencing suicidal thinking and behavior deserve dignity, respect, and the right to proper care.

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