Suicidality is currently a national health crisis in the United States. According to the Surgeon General, there were 47,500 suicides in 2019 and an estimated 1.4 million suicide attempts, with the numbers only increasing due to the current pandemic. While suicidality is a health crisis among the civilian population in the US, it is an even bigger health crisis among first responders. For first responders they are at an elevated risk for suicide due to the enviroments in which they work, their culture, their stress, both occupational and personal and an increase in physical health concerns, drug and alcohol concerns and mental health concerns.
Know the Warning Signs
- Threats or comments about killing themselves, also known as suicidal ideation, can begin with seemingly harmless thoughts like “I wish I wasn’t here” but can become more overt and dangerous
- Increased alcohol and drug use or engaging in self destructive behaviors
- Aggressive behavior. A person who’s feeling suicidal may experience higher levels of aggression and rage than they are used to.
- Social withdrawal from friends, family and the community.
- Dramatic mood swings that may indicate that your loved one is not feeling stable and may feel suicidal.
- Preoccupation with talking, writing or thinking about death.
- Impulsive or reckless behavior.
Is There Imminent Danger?
Any person exhibiting these behaviors should get care immediately:
- They are putting their affairs in order and giving away their possessions
- They are saying goodbye to friends and family
- Their mood shifts from despair to calm
- They start planning, possibly by looking around to buy, steal or borrow the tools they need to commit suicide such as a firearm or prescription medication
A licensed mental health professional can help assess risk.
Who is at Risk for Suicide?
Research has found that about 90% of individuals who die by suicide experience mental illness. Oftentimes it is undiagnosed or untreated. Experiencing a mental illness is the number one risk factor for suicide.
A number of things may put a person at risk of suicide:
- Substance abuse, which can cause mental highs and lows that exacerbate suicidal thoughts
- Intoxication (more than one in three people who die from suicide are found to be intoxicated)
- Access to firearms (the majority of completed suicides involve the use of a firearm)
- Chronic medical illness
- Gender (though more women than men attempt suicide, men are 4 times more likely to die by suicide)
- History of trauma
- Age (people under age 24 or above age 65 are at a higher risk for suicide)
- Recent tragedy or loss
- Agitation and sleep deprivation
If you or anyone you know needs help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-Talk (1-800-273-8255)