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Six Ways to Fight Suicide

Alcohol and substance use play a part in many suicides—but there are more resources than ever to help.

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By Christopher Tepedino

07/07/14

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The general perception surrounding suicide is that the act is reserved for people who suffer from mood disorders like depression and bipolar, or for people who have suffered a great loss in their life, such as a death in the family, a divorce, or a job

But the statistics tell a different story. According to the National Violent Death Reporting System, 27 to 30% of all people who die by suicide have a blood alcohol content in the intoxicated range. 

As Jill Harkavy-Friedman, the Vice President of Research at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, states, “The things we know about suicide are that 90% have a diagnosable and potentially treatable mental health disorder. Often, they have more than one—and oftentimes the more than one includes alcohol or substance use.”

You can, if you’re in crisis, reach out for help from those trained to deal with crises, including crisis line staffers, psychiatric hospitals, emergency room personnel, urgent care centers, and first responders.

If you are in crisis currently, call your local crisis line or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Following are six sections, four explaining in detail the benefits of choosing a path that will help you when you’re in crisis—the crisis line, psychiatric hospitals, medical facilities and calling 9-1-1. The remaining two sections are recommendations from a member of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and some tips on what family members can do if a loved one is in crisis. 

The Crisis Line: Trained Personnel To Help You Through A Crisis

Crisis line personnel fulfill two different and important functions in preventing suicides across the nation: They are trained to deal with crises and they connect someone in need with resources that will help them.

Harkavy-Friedman says, “If [someone is] actively in crisis, they need immediate help because they are thinking of suicide and often other options don’t come to mind. Telling someone that they’re with, telling a family member, calling the suicide prevention hotline because they have trained professionals that know how to deal with crisis and they also have access to resources" are all ways of getting help.

When you call a crisis line, you’re routed to a local mobile crisis center (unless you’re a military service member or veteran, in which case you’re routed to the military’s and VA’s crisis lines). The person who takes your call has been trained in crisis management and has the tools to deal with crisis. This includes safety planning and strategies to deal with suicidal thoughts and feelings.

People in crisis may wonder who they can talk to about the way they are feeling. Common questions include “What mental health professional can I call? Who is someone I can call in an emergency?" Harkavy-Friedman explains.

“The crisis line worker has tools like this to help the person. They will talk to the person and see how they can help. They’ll assess the situation and they’ll work toward keeping the person safe as much as one can from a distance.”

One of the ways a crisis line worker can help is by connecting the individual who is in crisis with resources that will help them short-term and long-term. But the primary goal is to keep the person safe, because if the person in crisis can pass through it and seek help, they’ll become healthier and feel better in the long run.

Friends and family members can also call the crisis line and the crisis line personnel will guide them through the process of getting the person who is in crisis on the phone.

Psychiatric Hospitals: Safety, Stability, And Treatment Of Underlying Causes

The psychiatric hospital used to be looked at as a scary place. Think One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, where lobotomies and electroconvulsive therapy were the common practices to treat patients with mental disorders.

Now, a stay in a psychiatric hospital is much different and treatments for the underlying mental disorders that often provoke a suicidal crisis are much better and less invasive. Three things a psychiatric hospital provides that can help an individual in crisis are safety, stability, and treatment:

First and foremost, psychiatric hospitals provide a safe place for individuals to be when they are in crisis. Tools which someone could use to commit suicide are most often, if not always, taken away, with even necessary medication being distributed by the nurses. Pens and pencils are not to be found, only felt-tip markers. Shower curtains are attached by Velcro.

Second, they provide a stable environment with scheduled activities such as group therapy, recreational therapy, and time to call family members and friends.

Finally, psychiatric hospitals provide treatment through therapy and, if appropriate, medication to treat the underlying causes of the crisis, whether it is related to depression, bipolar, addiction, PTSD, or other disorders.

Does that mean hospitals are the first option for a suicidal crisis? Answers differ, but one thing is certain:

“The hospital can help to provide for a safe place to stabilize, to gain access to medication if appropriate, and to be in a safe environment where the risk of suicide is diminished,” says Harkavy-Friedman.

The Emergency Room And Urgent Care: Safety First, As Always

The ER and urgent care facilities are often the last places people think about when they’re in a crisis. The emergency room, most people think, deals solely with physical crises—a broken leg, a gastrointestinal disease, and so forth. Urgent care seems more appropriate if you have the flu and can’t see a doctor in time.

But the ER and Urgent Care have resources at their disposal to get someone through crisis. Emergency rooms are often part of hospitals that have a psychiatric wing or that can transport someone who is in crisis to a local psychiatric hospital. Urgent care facilities can connect you with someone who can help, who is trained to deal with crises; these resources that are invaluable if you are suffering from suicidal thoughts or feelings.

As Harkavy-Friedman says, “In a crisis, safety is the first consideration. If we can get you through the crisis, then you can get treatment. When it comes to a crisis, safety first.”

If you’re suffering from suicidal thoughts or feelings, that last thing you want to do is mentally bicker about the gravity of the situation, if you need help from the emergency room, or if you need to visit the urgent care facility. Take the first step to getting help. There are resources out there, even at the local hospital.

9-1-1 Responders: Variance In How To Deal With The Suicidal Person

If you’re at your wit's end (or even if you're not), there’s always the option of dialing 9-1-1. The response you get will depend on numerous factors, including whether you get an ambulance or a police officer, or even how you greet the personnel at the door.

It is difficult to say how personnel will react to the call and how they will treat the situation, simply because training varies district by district, lacking a coherent national standard for handling the situation, and from personnel to personnel even within a district.

In the end, it’s another option for getting help, to connect with resources that will help you through the crisis and hopefully provide treatment so that another crisis like this doesn’t come along.

While dialing 9-1-1 may not be the first option on the list, if you’re in crisis it is an option to consider. 

Three Tips From An American Foundation For Suicide Prevention Research Member

Tip One: Safety First. Find people to connect with, reach out to family, friends, and crisis line, anyone to dissipate the crisis. Safety is the number one factor during a crisis. Reach out and connect with resources that will help alleviate the crisis.

Tip Two: Use Mobile Apps To Become Aware Of Triggers. Mobile apps allow you to track your moods throughout the day, enabling you to see what triggered a depressed mood. If you can understand what triggered your depressed mood, you can put together a safety plan that will help you cope with triggers that could lead to a crisis situation.

Tip Three: Find Someone Who Can Help You. “When you’re in crisis, you think nothing will help and you need to get to someone who understands that there is something that can help,” says Harkavy-Friedman.

For Family Members And Friends: What To Do When A Loved One Is In Crisis

Often, we talk about what an individual who is in crisis can do for themselves to help get out of that crisis or alleviate the emotional turmoil the crisis is causing. Neglected in these discussions are the family members and friends who can also play a role, for better or for worse. Here are some tips on what family members and friends can do if their loved one is in crisis:

The first thing to do is to simply be there and not be afraid to ask if the person is suicidal. You won’t make anyone suicidal by asking if they are. Make sure they’re safe and remove any lethal means, as statistics show that access to lethal means considerably increases whether someone will act on their suicidal thoughts and feelings.

Provide comfort and support and get them to someone who can offer some mental health treatment, such as a mental health professional. Do this with care and support. The person you’re helping is feeling miserable. They’re in pain and they want to be out of pain.

Be compassionate, focused on safety, and assist in getting the person mental health treatment where you can. Ask them what they are thinking about doing and then working with them, take away the means.

Call the crisis line with them or go to the hospital with them. You’ve got to be realistic and try your best. When a person is thinking about suicide, they aren’t thinking of the alternatives. But the goal is to get them help anyway.

Suicide Prevention And Substance Use: A Conclusion

If you’re in crisis or someone you know is in crisis, the most important thing is safety.

The options for safety and treatment of possible underlying conditions include calling a crisis line, going to a psychiatric hospital, going to the ER or urgent care centers, and dialing 9-1-1.

Tips for family members include being compassionate and caring, while removing lethal means and helping the individual through the crisis by calling the crisis line with them or going to the hospital with them.

If you’re in crisis, don’t delay. Call 1-800-273-TALK1-800-273-TALK (8255). Your life is worth it.

Christopher Tepedino is a writer based in Champaign, Illinois and a volunteer for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. He last wrote about maintaining sobriety despite a fatal illness.

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