by Kate Evans
Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States and was responsible for almost 46,000 deaths in 2020.
The COVID pandemic has increased suicide risk factors such as social isolation and barriers to physical and mental health care. Mental health experts have said those risk factors persist, even as the pandemic tapered down.
Suicide affects all ages and walks of life and is the second leading cause of death for individuals ages 10-14 and 25-34.
During 2020, an estimated 12.2 million American adults seriously thought about su cide, 3.2 million made a suicide plan and 1.2 million attempted suicide, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information.
People who have suffered child abuse, bullying or sexual violence are at a higher risk of suicide.
Everyone can learn the warning signs of suicide and how to get help for a loved one, friend, co-worker or someone in the community.
Some individuals can be facing stressful challenges and situations that are overwhelming. Others may have experienced a traumatic event.
Coping with stress
The CDC and other mental health experts say some healthy ways for everyone to cope with stress include:
—Building a support network of family, friends and loved ones that you can lean on if you feel depressed, anxious or suicidal.
—Making a safety plan of who to reach out to if you’re feeling vulnerable – a trusted adult, psychiatrist, school counselor, pastor, online therapist or support group.
—Taking breaks from the news, the internet and social media to help calm yourself. Hearing about traumatic things constantly can be upsetting.
An important part of taking care of our mental health is taking care of our physical self. That can include these steps:
Eat healthy, well-balanced meals. Exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep. Take a break if you feel stressed out. Get outside in the sunshine.
Take care of your body. Do deep breaths, stretches or meditate. Avoid alcohol, to- bacco and substance use. Maintain a normal routine.
Make time to unwind and do relaxing and creative activities you like. Try walking, reading, dancing, crocheting or knitting, painting, coloring, gardening, listening to healing music, playing with your dog or cat or watching a funny movie.
Connect with community or faith-based organizations. Stay connected to others.
Setting goals for the future, even in the short-term, can be helpful for someone struggling with mental health.
Sometimes the main goal could be to do less, not more. Make a list of all you have to be grateful for. Set goals for yourself to improve your life and take small steps toward those goals.
Take on less responsibilities at work and less activities at home. Delegate tasks to other people.
Know your limits
See your family physician about medications that could help if your life situation is overwhelming.
Talk to people you trust about your concerns and what you’re feeling. Share how you’re feeling and coping with a parent, friend, counselor, doctor or pastor. If you don’t know where to turn, call a national hotline.
Know when you need more help. If your problems continue or you are thinking about suicide, talk to a social worker, psychologist or a professional counselor.
Children & teens
Children and teens may have difficulty coping with stress and trauma, said CDC officials.
Its helpful if parents and caregivers maintain their normal routines – have kids wake up, go to bed and eat meals at regular times.
Teachers keeping a regular classroom and school schedule can provide a sense of stability and safety. Encourage students to keep up with their schoolwork and extracurricular activities but don’t push them if they seem overwhelmed.
Talk and listen to children’s thoughts and feelings and share some of yours, too. It’s important for children to feel that their fears and worries are understood.
W atch, listen and be alert for any change in a child’s behavior. Are kids withdrawing or acting out? Changes in behavior may indicate that a child is struggling and may need extra support.
Parents should reassure their children that they are safe and talk about ways that they, the schools and the
community are working to keep them safe.
Talk to other parents and your child’s teachers about how you can help your child cope.
A range of factors can increase the possibility that someone will attempt suicide. The CDC’s list of suicide risk factors include a previous suicide attempt, history of depression and other mental illness, serious illness, chronic pain, criminal and/or legal problems, job/financial problems or loss, substance misuse, adverse childhood experiences and a sense of hopelessness.
Other risk factors that could contribute to suicide include bullying, family/loved one’s history of suicide, relationship loss, high conflict or violent relationships and social isolation.
Factors that protect against suicide risk include effective coping and problem-solving skills, reasons for living such as family, friends or pets, a strong sense of cultural identity, support from partners, friends and family, feeling connected to others and feeling connected to school, community and other social institutions.
Other protective factors include availability of consistent and high quality physical and behavioral health care and cultural and religious or moral objections to suicide.
CDC officials stress that everyone can help prevent suicide.
If you encounter someone who appears to be in distress, ask them how they are feeling, be there for them, help them to connect to others and be supportive.
Call the National Suicide Prevention and Crisis Lifeline at 988, their new three-digit number that was launched last July. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s ten-digit number (1-800-273-8255 or 1-800-273-TALK)