Editor’s Note: September is Suicide Awareness Month and N3 called on the fine folks at Newaygo County Mental Health to help us spread the message of prevention to the community.
Suicide Prevention Is Everyone’s Issue
Philip A. Himebaugh, MS, Ed.S, LLPC, NCC
Suicide presents as a topic equal parts severe and uncomfortable. Many have suffered its effects in their lives. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) most recently available data on the subject, suicide was the second leading cause of death among Americans ages 10-34 years. The CDC also...
...reports that there were 41,149 suicides in 2013 in the United States. This equates to a staggering rate of 12.6 suicides per 100,000 people or, 113 suicides each day or one life lost every 13 minutes. Clearly, suicide in America is a real and serious issue - one deserving of further study, discussion, and action.
With such daunting figures and facts facing the nation and each of its citizens, what is the average person to do? The answer to this question can seem nebulous and is often varied, yet, the questions are numerous. Why is this happening? Who is at risk? Are there warning signs that someone may be contemplating suicide? How can I tell? What can I do?
The answer to these questions lies in the preventative tactics and facts about suicide. Thankfully, sifting through all of this information and these vitally important questions is made easier with the use of a few key pieces of information. For example, the American Association of Suicidology has formulated an acronym that can assist in telling whether or not someone may be at risk of suicide: IS PATH WARM. IS PATH WARM can be a helpful tool when evaluating whether or not suicide prevention action steps may be warranted.
The letters that make up IS PATH WARM each stand for a different component to recognizing risk factors in a potentially suicidal person. Ideation, Substance abuse, Purposelessness, Anxiety, Trapped, Hopelessness, Withdrawal, Anger, Recklessness, Mood changes. Each facet of this acronym can be individually broken down in the following way:
Ideation simply means that a person may be experiencing suicidal thoughts or ideas. They may have begun planning the method or methods by which they will attempt to complete suicide. A person may or may not express this ideation verbally. In fact, many people may not express this ideation in any explicit or easily understood way. This is where the other parts of the acronym may be helpful.
Substance abuse may be a sign of suicide risk. Is a person increasing their use of substances such as alcohol or other illicit drugs such as marijuana or opioids? If so, it may be appropriate to intervene.
Purposelessness may refer to a person’s feeling that their life has no meaning or that they cannot discern a direction or goal for themselves and their future.
Anxiety is a symptom that many may be familiar with. High levels of anxiety that lead to withdrawal from friends and family, sleeplessness, hypersomnia (sleeping too much) or increased irritability may be a sign that someone is at risk for suicide and needs help.
Trapped, the fifth component of the acronym, refers to the sense a person may have of feeling like there is no way out of their current situation or problem. They could feel that there is nowhere or no one for them to turn to.
Hopelessness, much like trapped or purposelessness, may be a feeling of doom or dread. A person may exhibit a lack of motivation or present in an extremely despondent manner.
Withdrawal, as previously discussed, describes a person who may distance themselves from his or her friends and family. Events or gathering that this person once may have enjoyed may be skipped altogether by a person who is withdrawing.
Anger refers to uncontrolled anger or rage. A rageful person may lash out at others, often times without warning or obvious motivation. Yelling at others, swearing, becoming physically violent, and breaking objects are all warning signs of a person whose anger may be overtaking them.
Recklessness may be recognized when a person is engaging in extremely high risk behaviors, sometimes it may seem like they are not “in their right mind” or even thinking about what they are doing before they do it. A person may start to give way all of his or her earthly possessions, even those of great monetary or sentimental value.
Finally, dramatic Mood changes in a person may be indicative of a problem and may be a sign of a person at risk of suicide. A person who struggles with depression and /or anxiety may suddenly present as happy, calm and “at peace”. A person who previously had been suffering from anxiety and worry may take a much more “laissez faire” attitude of the world and around them and/or their personal circumstances. A person who is normally happy and outgoing may become angry, sad and withdrawn.
The IS PATH WARM acronym is an extremely valuable tool in the prevention of suicide. However, all of this information begs the question: now what? What is the average person to do if they recognize any of these signs or symptoms in another person?
A good place to start could be the national suicide prevention lifeline which can be called toll-free at 1-800-273-8255. Acute or longer term counseling and mental health services at your local community mental health agency or private practice counseling agency may also be a good resource to turn to. Newaygo County Mental Health (NCMH), located at 1049 Newell St. in White Cloud, has staff available for crisis situations 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The number to reach NCMH is (231) 689-7330.
Many people express fear that talking to a loved one about suicide or concerns they have about a person’s well-being may cause an increase in the likelihood that the person will attempt or complete suicide. In fact, there is evidence to the contrary (Dazzi, Gribble, Wessely, Fear, 2014). This research suggests that talking to someone about your concerns and their potential risk for suicide or self-harm not only does not increase the likelihood of ideation or action, but in fact, may decrease it.
September is national suicide awareness month. It’s a great time to remember to keep the IS PATH WARM acronym in mind as you interact with friends, family and co-workers. Taking action and having conversations about suicide, however difficult they may be, could just save a life.
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