The Harbinger Online

How to Prevent Suicide

In the U.S., one person commits suicide every 17 minutes. Every one hour and 37 minutes, an elderly person dies by suicide. And every two hours and 12 minutes, a teenager or young adult dies by their own hand. This suicide epidemic has been going on for as long as anyone can remember. Thousands of Americans are killing themselves each year, and the number is only getting bigger.

Suicide is devastating to anyone involved: friends, family, teachers. Typically after a suicide, anyone close to the person will question their loved one’s motives. Why did they do it? What could I have done to prevent it?

Suicide has many causes. It can stem from different factors depending on the person, such as their living situation, social environment and anything situational that is distressing. The likelihood of a person attempting suicide can depend on their race, gender and religion, as well as identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).

According to Dr. Bill Geis, professor of psychiatry at the University of Missouri Kansas City, there are several elements that are almost always present in a suicide. Any kind of mental condition, typically anxiety or depression, can lead to a pain that some consider unbearable. This might make someone with mental illness more sensitive to loss, rejection, personal disappointment or other social stressors. Recognizing these signs may also help to prevent suicide.

“The general public does not understand that in approximately 70 [percent] of highly lethal attempts, the decision to act is made within one hour of the attempt,” Dr. Geis said in an email interview. “Our studies suggest that people are often in an altered state when this happens, and the person is in no way thinking clearly about their situation.”

East parent and Trailridge Middle School counselor Melissa Wiles deals with depressed and self-harming students frequently. She estimates that, on average, she’ll see six to eight of these students in her office every week.

“I think our world is so fast-paced, so expensive, I just think there’s so many little things,” Wiles said. “Parents [work] and kids are alone. Kids rely on social media, and they can be so mean [to each other].”

One contributing factor to suicide, at least in adolescents, is bullying. Bullying is a known possible precursor to depression in kids and teenagers. In 2013, 38 percent of bullied adolescents had reported suicidal thinking or a suicide attempt the year before. Bullied adolescents are also 3.3 times more likely to consider suicide than non-bullied adolescents.

More commonly, adolescents are using social media to bully. According to the Megan Meier Foundation, it is estimated that 2.2 million high schoolers were cyber-bullied back in 2011. Students, in Wiles’ words, have also started posting about their pain on social media, usually Twitter, which could be an indicator of suicidal intentions.

Wiles also notes that most of the kids she talks to are dealing with one of two kinds of depression: situational or chronic. Situational depression is usually temporary, and occurs after one experiences a particularly difficult hardship in life. Chronic, or clinical, depression is classified as a mental illness, and one that may require therapy and medication. This type doesn’t go away.

Of every depressed, self-harming or suicidal student Wiles sees each year, she classifies the vast majority of them as situationally depressed. These kids will typically leave middle school with a normal mental state. Each year, however, Wiles will have one or two students with clinical depression. These students will deal with depression for the rest of their lives.

In the U.S., up to 3.4 percent of people who are clinically depressed commit suicide, while almost 60 percent of those who commit suicide are depressed or have a mood disorder.

“Frequently, the feelings that an adolescent has are kept incredibly secret,” Dr. Geis said. “We have to make it O.K. for adolescents to come forward with this level of distress and feel like there are interventions that can really make a difference.”

There are many ways one can help someone with depression. However, Dr. Geis suggests letting a well-trained mental health professional help. If one is worried about a friend with potential suicidal intentions, in a school setting, both Wiles and Geis recommend telling someone rather than keeping the information a secret. This would include telling a teacher, a counselor or going directly to the person’s parents.

“Get them help early in the process — before they are in desperate crisis,” Dr. Geis said. “Accurate detection of suicidal risk is not for friends or family to accomplish. Get the person to a well-trained mental health professional.”

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Susannah Mitchell

Senior Susannah Mitchell is the Online Co-Editor of the Harbinger with her soulmate, Julia Poe. She enjoys sweaters, feminism, collaging and actor Ezra Miller, whom she believes is a total fox. Read Full »

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