How you can help prevent suicide

Caryn Hirsch, LCSW, wrote this post. Caryn has worked with children and their families for over 20 years. In 1999, she relocated to New Jersey and started her work at Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton, helping children and families overcome abuse, neglect and trauma. Caryn has been an adolescent trauma consultant for Mercer County since 2008. She moved to another agency in Trenton in 2009 where she opened and ran a child/adolescent outpatient clinic. In 2015, she returned to Catholic Charities as program director of Family Growth in Trenton. She also oversees Family Growth in Burlington, an outpatient clinic for children and their families located at Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton’s Providence House-Domestic Violence Services in Westampton.

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

Someone dies by suicide every 11 minutes, on average, in New Jersey. More than twice as many people die by suicide here than by homicide. And suicide is one of the leading causes of death for teenagers and young adults (ages 15-24), just behind accidents and murder.

These statistics are published by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. But as eye-opening as they are, consider that they could be far worse: There are 25 suicide attempts for each documented death. Each year, 44,965 Americans die by suicide. Do the math, and that means more than a million people every year unsuccessfully attempt suicide.

I have been an adolescent trauma consultant in Mercer County since 2008. After a sudden traumatic loss that impacts children and/or adolescents, I am dispatched by Mercer County’s mental health administrator to provide psychological first aid and suicide prevention education at schools, religious organizations or community organizations.

How to help

But if you think only experts can prevent a suicide, you are mistaken. Suicide prevention is everyone’s business, and anyone can help prevent the tragedy of suicide. Suicide is the most preventable kind of death, and almost any positive action may save a life.

So, what can you do?

Educate yourself

New Jersey uses a suicide prevention model called QPR: Question, Persuade, and Refer. You can attend a training. You can learn the suicide risk factors, suicide myths and facts, and suicide warning signs.

Even without formal training, there are things you can do.

Offer hope

Suicide is an action taken in response to a perceived problem.

Do you remember when you were a teenager and madly in love with someone? Do you remember how it felt when it ended? If you are anything like me, you wondered if you would be alone forever. You believed deep in your soul you would never love anyone again. It seemed monumental, insurmountable.

We later learn it was manageable. It was a growing, learning experience. But for a teen, it may seem completely hopeless. Offering hope is the best thing you can do when someone is suicidal.

Talk about it

If you have a child, talk to them about suicide. Ask tough questions, and tell your children: ‘Suicide is never the answer. Things will get better. There is nothing you can’t tell me.’ Then say it and say it often. This teaches children there is hope, and nothing is ever hopeless. This will reduce the chance of a suicide attempt, by giving hope. But be sure you can you honestly say these things to your child. If not, practice. Never say anything you don’t mean. Don’t promise unconditional support if you can’t give it. For example, if you tell a child: ‘There is nothing you can’t tell me!’ and they confide that they are transgender, can you handle that? If not, you can’t make that promise. You can turn to a professional for assistance.

Consult a professional

Suicidal thoughts can be changed. There is treatment for depression. No one should be ashamed to ask for help. We know that the vast majority of people who attempt suicide have an underlying mental health diagnosis. It may not be currently diagnosed, so when in doubt, consult a professional. Mercer County currently has a “no stigma” campaign and several organizations/agencies have signed a pledge to be part of the solution. Even if there’s no mental health diagnosis, your child could benefit from professional counseling.

Ask directly

If you’re concerned someone you know may be suicidal, ask them directly. If you don’t feel comfortable, find someone who is. Consider a professional. Just don’t wait. You could make all the difference.

If you asked the question, and the answer involves even vague thoughts of suicide, don’t leave the person alone. Take them to a professional as soon as possible. Every emergency room can screen for suicidal thoughts.

For help or to connect with care, call our Access, Help and Information Center at (800) 360-7711.

Other resources to get help:

  • New Jersey Hopeline: (855) NJ-HOPELINE, or (855) 654-6735. This is a 24/7 helpline that can connect callers to trained counselors.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255 or (800) 273-TALK.
  • Crisis Textline. Text the word HOME to 741741 for free 24/7 crisis support
  • 2NDFLOOR Youth Helpline: (888) 222-2228 (call or text 24/7)

For further reading on suicide prevention in New Jersey, click here.

For more information, contact Caryn Hirsch at (609) 394-5157, or Dana DiFilippo, communications, at (609) 394-5181, ext. 1153.

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