September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

Suicide is among the leading causes of death for people of all ages, with thousands across the nation taking their own lives each year. According to the CDC, suicide rates increased by 30 percent nationally between 1999 and 2016, including 45 percent in Kansas.


While the numbers show a growing problem, suicide is preventable if we can recognize the warning signs and help those at-risk. Centura-St. Catherine Hospital joins many others across the nation this month in observing National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and National Suicide Prevention Week, Sept. 6-12, as a time dedicated to shining a light on suicide and how we can work together to prevent it.


Suicidal thoughts can affect anyone regardless of age, gender or background, but they should not be considered normal and often indicate more serious mental health issues.


"Suicide language can be an indicator of possible mental and emotional disturbances and the inability to cope with them," said Martha Hinojosa, Behavioral Health Services program manager for St. Catherine Hospital.


One key to prevention is being able to identify the warning signs. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), watch for friends, family and loved ones who:


- Share comments or thoughts about suicide


- Increase their use of alcohol and/or drugs


- Show aggressive behavior


- Withdraw from friends, family and community


- Show dramatic mood swings


- Act impulsively or recklessly


"Identifying these signs and validating the need for treatment are fundamental in preventing suicidal thoughts that subsequently can lead to suicide attempts," Hinojosa said.


If someone is exhibiting warning signs, it’s important to let them know they can talk about what they’re dealing with. If not sure how to approach the conversation or deal with the situation, NAMI suggests considering these approaches:


- Talk openly and honestly. Don’t be afraid to ask questions like: "Do you have a plan for how you would kill yourself?"


- Remove means such as guns, knives or stockpiled pills.


- Calmly ask simple and direct questions, like "Can I help you call your psychiatrist?"


- If there are multiple people around, have one person speak at a time.


- Express support and concern.


- Don’t argue, threaten or raise your voice.


- Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong.


- If you’re nervous, try not to fidget or pace.


- Be patient.


The Behavioral Health Services team at St. Catherine - consisting of a psychiatrist, therapist, nurses and social workers - work together to provide diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders that can lead to suicide if not treated. Unfortunately, the stigma of seeking help can be an obstacle for those needing care, Hinojosa said.


"The BHS team strives to provide healing and hope for anyone in need," she said.


If you or someone you love needs to talk, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 for free, confidential support at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).