For most people, the suicide of a loved one is unimaginable. If, however, you’ve experienced a suicide in your family, you know that the unimaginable can occur. Each year, close to 40,000 people lose their lives to suicide in the United States. It’s a shocking, frightening statistic. September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, a time when all of us can look at the risk factors for suicide and find out what steps we each can take to reduce the risk of suicide in those closest to us.
Psychiatrist Dr. Julia Wood from Blount Memorial Parkway Psychiatric Service says there are specific signs to watch for when it comes to suicide. “Generally speaking, the risk factors for suicide include depression or other mental illness, previous suicide attempts, a family history of suicide, substance misuse, and recent environmental stressors, such as the loss of a job,” Wood said. “Certainly, most people with these risk factors do not commit suicide, but it is important to recognize these risks so that people can get help when they need it. When people are contemplating suicide, they also may begin to show signs to the people around them. Signs of depression can include mood swings, isolating oneself from family or friends, talking about death, or expressing suicidal thoughts. Of course, any mention of suicide should be taken seriously. Remind them that their depression is treatable. Talking to someone about his or her suicidal thoughts will not push them to act on these thoughts,” she explained. “Listen without judgment, remain calm and offer hope that things can get better,” she added.
“Perhaps the simplest step we can each take to reduce the risk of suicide in those close to us is to safely store firearms in the home,” Wood continued. “In Tennessee, two thirds of completed suicides involve a firearm. A suicide attempt made using a firearm has an 85 percent risk of success, compared to less than 5 percent with many other methods. Most people who attempt suicide and survive never go on to make another suicide attempt. People contemplating suicide can give warnings to those around them, but they don’t always, and something as simple as taking away access to a firearm could save a life. We all do our best to safely store our firearms, but, this month, I urge everyone to do another check to ensure firearms are safely stored. A study of second grade children found that 75 percent knew where their parents stored their guns and a third of children admitted to handling the guns without their parents’ knowledge. And 80 percent of teen suicides by firearm used a gun found in their home or that of a friend or relative,” she explained. “This is an important reminder that our children know more about where we keep our weapons than we often realize. If you have a key-coded safe, reprogram the code. If you have a key, change its hiding place. Storing firearms and ammunitions separately further reduces the risk that a firearm will be used in a suicide. Taking these simple measures could help save a life,” Wood added.
If you or someone you know is battling depression and thoughts of suicide, it’s important to seek help. Wood sees patients at Parkway Psychiatric Service, which is located at 220 Associates Blvd. in Alcoa. For more information or to schedule an initial appointment, call Parkway Psychiatric Service at 865-980-5377.