Improving the capacity to prevent suicide
There are numerous topics that do not receive as much open discussion as they warrant. One of those topics is suicide. To many, suicide is a taboo subject and stigmatized, with the word suicide rarely, if ever, being said aloud. Simply put, that needs to be changed. A few heartbreaking statistics make it blandly obvious why suicide, especially youth suicide, needs to be a topic of public concern and discussion.
In our state of Washington, suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth aged between ten and twenty-four. This equals out to an average of two youth per week taking their life. In the 2012 Washington Healthy Youth Survey, 17.2 percent of youth in grades 8-12 seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year and 8 percent actually attempted suicide. As these figures illustrate, youth suicide is a real issue, responsible for taking too many lives of young people.
Suicide is saddening and an act that can be difficult to accept or understand. Suicide, however, is preventable. Four out of five teens that attempt suicide display warning signs. These warning signs include, but are not limited to, giving away favorite possessions, loss of interest, extreme mood swings, and verbal hints (It’s hopeless, There is no reason to live). Suicide may be preventable, but it is only preventable if there is suicide education, alertness, and awareness.
There may be concern that talking more about suicide will increase the instances of it occurring. Opening the discussion about suicide will not cause more loss, but save lives. It will show those youth contemplating suicide that there are people who care about their well-being and want to be there to provide support in those times of crisis, struggle, and darkness. Youth will be comfortable in expressing their thoughts of suicide if there is more openness and recognition about the issue. It is not saying that you condone suicide, but rather that you recognize the youth’s feelings and situation, are willing to listen, and want to help them through it in a way that does not end in tragedy.
The concern about lack of preparedness around suicide prevention has already been acknowledged by the proposal and passage of legislative policy. Last year, House Bill 2336 was passed and signed into law, making training in suicide prevention mandatory for mental health social workers as a part of certification.
This concern has been illustrated further with the proposal of House Bill 1336 this year. House Bill 1336 also mandates required training for suicide prevention for certification, but instead focuses on social workers, counselors, and nurses working for our schools. This bill goes an extra step by requiring school districts to adopt plans that will provide staff with training opportunities on suicide prevention, list guidelines on how to respond to suicide warning signs, build referral systems with community organizations, and develop support for students and staff after a suicide or suicide attempt occurs within the student body.
Policies like House Bill 2336 and 1336 may not eliminate suicides entirely, but it is a step in the right direction toward reducing youth suicide. Youth are in schools from September to June every year from the time they are five years old until eighteen. With this level of access and supervision of youth, schools must be able to recognize emotional distress and have the capacity to prevent potential suicides from occurring.
Suicide is a serious issue, and it warrants more discussion than it currently is receiving. Strides have been made by elected officials to change how suicide is being responded to by professionals and school districts. Now, individuals and communities should also make efforts to educate themselves on suicide prevention and increase alertness in the recognition of emotional distress. You could end up saving the life of a family member, a friend, or even a complete stranger.
If you are contemplating committing suicide or are experiencing a crisis and wish to talk, please call Volunteers of America’s Care Crisis Line at 800-584-3578 or login to the Lifeline Crisis Chat online at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.