National Suicide Prevention Month: Know the Signs

September 29, 2021

Suicide Prevention

We are inundated with “awareness” days, weeks, and months. From National Pancake Day to International Clown Week, just about every day, week, or month is now associated with one or more causes. September is particularly jam-packed with causes to recognize. September is National Cholesterol Education Month, National Recovery Month, and so many other observances that relate to the Long Island Health Collaborative mission to reduce the incidence of chronic disease on Long Island. Mental health is so important to our overall health, now more than ever in light of COVID-19. That’s why the LIHC is spotlighting the vital observance of National Suicide Prevention Month this September.

Suicide in the US

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US. In 2019, 47,511 Americans died by suicide, and there were 1,380,000 suicide attempts.  Suicide rates in the United States have increased about 33% from 1999 to 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Suicide and COVID-19

A study by the CDC states, “During June 24–30, 2020, U.S. adults reported considerably elevated adverse mental health conditions associated with COVID-19. Younger adults, racial/ethnic minorities, essential workers, and unpaid adult caregivers reported having experienced disproportionately worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use, and elevated suicidal ideation.”

Risk factors for suicide include substance use disorder, mental illness such as depression, social isolation, Many experts predicted that the overall suicide rate would heighten during the pandemic, but the majority of data actually shows a modest reduction in total suicide rates, whereas some report no significant increase in suicide rates during the first year of the pandemic. Historical data from previous epidemics shows that suicide rates initially appear to decrease during epidemics but may increase thereafter. Specific groups of people, such as the black population, veterans, the LGBTQIA+ community, and those with barriers to healthcare are at a higher risk of suicide to begin with. Given these trends and the fact that many individuals are now at a higher risk of suicide due to factors incurred by the pandemic, it’s important for everyone to know the warning signs of suicide.

Know the Signs

While there’s no single cause for suicide, there are often telling risk factors and other signs that we can look out for. As per the CDC, the following risk factors make an individual more likely to commit suicide:

Individual Factors:

  • Previous suicide attempt
  • Mental illness, such as depression
  • Social isolation
  • Criminal problems
  • Financial problems
  • Impulsive or aggressive tendencies
  • Job problems or loss
  • Legal problems
  • Serious illness
  • Substance use disorder

Relationship Factors:

  • Adverse childhood experiences such as child abuse and neglect
  • Bullying
  • Family history of suicide
  • Relationship problems such as a break-up, violence, or loss
  • Sexual violence

Community Factors:

  • Barriers to health care
  • Cultural and religious beliefs such as a belief that suicide is noble resolution of a personal problem
  • Suicide cluster in the community

Societal Factors:

  • Stigma associated with mental illness or help-seeking
  •  Easy access to lethal means among people at risk (e.g. firearms, medications)
  • Unsafe media portrayals of suicide

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) lists the following warning signs of suicide:

  • Suicidal ideation (comments or thoughts about suicide, ie “Nothing matters,” or “I wish I wasn’t here”)
  • Increased alcohol and drug use
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and community
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Impulsive or reckless behavior

NAMI also points out suicidal behaviors, which indicate a psychiatric emergency, and require immediate help from a health care provider or 911:

  • Collecting and saving pills or buying a weapon
  • Giving away possessions
  • Tying up loose ends, like organizing personal papers or paying off debts
  • Saying goodbye to friends and family

In addition to risk factors, the CDC also outlines the following protective factors:

  • Coping and problem-solving skills
  • Cultural and religious beliefs that discourage suicide
  • Connections to friends, family, and community support
  • Supportive relationships with care providers
  • Availability of physical and mental health care
  • Limited access to lethal means among people at risk

Resources That Can Help

Suicide is not the answer. There is hope. We can all play a part in preventing suicide, and the LIHC and its members are committed to suicide prevention. In fact, featured presentations at the September meeting of the LIHC exclusively focused on suicide prevention and member organizations that can help. Find the recording of the meeting here, or visit these links for more information: