September is the month set aside for suicide prevention, but this topic is in the forefront of most discussions about mental health both in our community as well as across the state and the country. Suicide prevention is important every day. The topic is always difficult to discuss. An interesting statistic that is being studied by the CDC is that while the rates in the U.S. have been increasing steadily over the last decade, they in fact declined nationally 2% in 2019 and again in 2020 by about 3%. While we know more people were struggling over the last couple of years, the pandemic normalized talking about mental health as well as increasing access to treatment through telehealth.
Suicide is a complex issue. Not only can it be affected by an underlying mental illness, it can also be complicated by social, relational and community issues. Not all populations showed a decrease. Rates remained steady for young adults and people of color. While there is positivity in the decreases, we must continue to remain aware, educated and diligent in prevention and treatment efforts with continued focus on those subpopulations most at risk.
The suicide rate in Wyoming tends to be one of the highest in the U.S., usually within the top three with Montana and Alaska. The statistics are heartbreaking for those lives lost but also for all the people left behind. Teton County has been lower in number than other counties for the last decade or so but every single one is a devastating loss.
What can you do? There are several options for free training that can help members of the community recognize and respond to someone who is struggling. The Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center’s Mental Health First Aid program is one. This training deals with a variety of mental health issues in an eight-hour training. Specific to suicide prevention is safeTalk (two hours) and Question, Persuade & Refer or QPR (one hour). These trainings give community members the skills to recognize the warning signs of suicide, ask questions and provide resources for intervention. They are free to the public (offered by Teton County Prevention Coalition) and can be set up for anyone interested.
Many people first reach out to loved ones, clergy, teachers or friends. Many times there is fear about approaching the subject, not wanting to say the wrong thing. So how can we go about discussing the issue respectfully and responsibly?
• Be as direct as possible when talking about suicide.
• What can you do when you suspect someone you know is depressed or thinking of suicide? Be there and be direct.
• Do not be afraid to ask the question, “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” One of the biggest misconceptions about suicide is if you ask the question, you may plant the idea. But asking the question shows support and concern.
• If someone is experiencing suicidal thoughts, don’t dismiss or minimize the person’s comments (i.e., “It’s really not that bad”). Instead, face it head on.
• Talk to the person about your concern. Ask if she has been thinking about attempting suicide or has a plan for how to do it. Having a plan indicates a higher risk of action.
• Seek help. Contact the person’s doctor, mental health provider or other health care professional. Let other family members or close friends know what’s going on.
• Call a suicide or crisis hotline number (988).
• Make sure the person is safe. If possible, eliminate access to any means used to attempt suicide. For example, remove or lock up firearms, other weapons and medications.
• Call 911 if the person is in danger of self-harm or suicide. Make sure someone stays with that person.
Education plays a crucial role for communities in preventing suicide and eliminating the stigma of mental illnesses. Articles about suicide can educate readers about risk factors, warning signs and local resources for intervention. In addition, there is much more to understand about why people choose suicide as an option.
Many families or loved ones may blame themselves or feel judged by others. Those talking about suicide should be sensitive to tone, content and language. Responsible discussion should avoid judgment — intentional or implied — when reporting the story and should also include education about prevention.
Without a doubt, discussions about suicide should continue to happen throughout our community.
Several organizations and individuals are working as part of the Teton County Suicide Prevention Coalition on initiatives to provide information, support, counseling, training and prevention programs. Contact the Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center, 733-2046, or the Teton County Prevention Management Organization, 264-1536, to schedule or attend a training.
Warning signs and resources:
• Threats of suicide, talking about suicide or wanting to die
• Preoccupation with death, dying or suicide
• Increased alcohol and drug use
• Perception of being a burden to others
• Increased anxiety, agitation or aggression
• Hopelessness, no sense of purpose or reason to live
• Isolation from friends and family
• Rage or uncontrolled anger
• Impulsivity or risk-taking behavior
• Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
• Sleeping too little or too much
If any of these thoughts and behaviors apply to you or someone you know, seek assistance or advice by contacting a mental health professional. You may also call the Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center’s crisis line at 733-2046; National Suicide Prevention hotline at 988 or 800-273-TALK (you can also text HOME to 741741); or call 911.