Preventing suicide: How can I help others?

Published 10:22 am Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Polk Fit Fresh & Friendly
By Dr. Craig Martin


Polk Fit Fresh and Friendly (PF3), Polk County’s wellness coalition, supports the overall health of all community members. Mental health is an important part of overall health and wellbeing. This month, we take a look at the issue of suicide in Polk County and what you can do to help others.

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Suicide affects people in every community – young, old, rich and poor. Some Polk County residents know the pain caused by a loved one’s suicide all too well.

In a county of 20,000 residents, eight people died by suicide last year, according to the N.C. State Center for Health Statistics. That’s higher than average in North Carolina – in fact, Polk County’s suicide rate from 2010 to 2014 was more than 50 percent greater than the state average. Nationwide, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death, with more than 40,000 suicides reported in 2013 – several lives lost each hour. More than half are due to use of firearms.

Suicide has been labeled “a permanent response to a temporary problem.” Its traumatic aftermath can last for generations. Suicide can be caused by many factors, and community members are taking action on multiple fronts. In September, Harmon Field hosted the county’s first-ever Suicide Prevention Walk and Remembrance, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) tackled the topic with a October discussion at Isothermal Community College. The events helped spread the word that depression and other mental illnesses – risk factors for suicide – are real illnesses and that help is available. Education on safe use of medicines and treatment options for substance use disorders is also being shared.

People considering suicide may feel hopeless, angry or “trapped”. Additional risk factors include alcohol or drug use, prior suicide attempts and a history of domestic violence, abuse or trauma. Sometimes, suicide occurs following a major life stressor or painful experience – other times, there appears to be no external cause.

What can I do?

Some people show warning signs that they are considering suicide, although these are not the same for everyone. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, common signs include:

 Talking about killing themselves, having no reason to live, being a burden to others or experiencing unbearable pain

 Using increased amounts of alcohol or drugs

 Looking for information about how to kill themselves

 Acting in an unpredictable way

 Withdrawing from activities, family or friends

 Sleeping too much or too little

 Visiting or calling people to say goodbye, or giving away prized possessions

 Displaying irritable mood changes or unbearable anxiety, shame or humiliation

It’s OK to directly ask a person if he or she is thinking about suicide. It may help to listen to the person without judging and give them information about what help is available locally.
Fortunately, Polk County residents have multiple options to help themselves or a loved one:

  • · Store firearms and medications safely and responsibly.
  • · If someone has tried to hurt himself or herself or is in immediate physical danger, call 911 or go to a hospital emergency department.
  • · If you or someone else is in crisis and need a mental health professional to come to your location, call Mobile Crisis Management at 1-888-573-1006 anytime, day or night.
  • · If you need information about finding treatment services, call Smoky Mountain LME/MCO at 1-800- 849-6127, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • · For support and education, call NAMI Four Seasons of Henderson and Polk County at 864-457-7278.

Recovery is possible

No treatment can instantly “cure” a person of suicidal thoughts. However, people can and do recover. Some individuals find that counseling, medication or a combination of both helps them feel better. Peer support from mental health professionals who themselves are in recovery from addiction or mental illness may also be available.

Earlier this year, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration released a guide to help people who have attempted suicide move forward with their lives. It includes stories from people who survived their attempts, who reported that things did get better over time. They learned they were not worthless and that people did care about them.

As one survivor reported, “Pain has a beginning and an end. It comes, then it goes. We need to make it to the finish line so we can feel the satisfaction of having made it through.”

Dr. Craig Martin is a board-certified adult and child psychiatrist and chief medical officer at Smoky Mountain LME/MCO, western North Carolina’s public managed care organization for mental health, substance use and intellectual or developmental disabilities. Smoky Mountain, represented locally by Community Outreach Specialist Marilyn Kaylor, is an active partner with PF3 in Polk County