by Kathy Demars, RN, Executive Director, Lamoille Home Health and Hospice As September, National Suicide Prevention Month, has drawn to a close, I hope that we all carry the messages we’ve heard last month with us throughout the year. Suicide rates in the U.S. have grown by 20 percent in the last decade. They are at the highest level since 1942.
Here in Vermont, the picture is even bleaker. Suicide rates in our state have increased by 73.1 percent since 1999. And the suicide rate in the region we serve—Lamoille County—outpaces even Vermont’s rate. The rate is highest among adults 65 and older—the population we at Lamoille Home Health and Hospice most frequently serve.
Suicide is preventable. Our agency’s caregivers take their roles with clients very seriously and are often able to detect indicators that a person may be having suicidal thoughts. By engaging with the clients, they can help ensure that each has a pathway to care when needed.
But it takes an entire community to prevent suicide. Public awareness of the signs and symptoms is integral to preventing its occurrence. The Vermont Suicide Prevention Coalition calls on a number of principles derived from the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention and the Vermont Suicide Prevention Platforms:
• Suicide is generally preventable — suicidality is a diagnosable mental health condition that requires care and treatment.
• Suicide is a public health issue.
• Mental health and physical health are important and inextricably linked components of overall health.
• Suicide shares risk factors with substance abuse, bullying and harassment, traumatic events (including sexual abuse, violence and post-traumatic stress), as well as other mental health conditions.
• The community, individuals and organizations must collaborate to prevent suicide.
Knowing the warning signs of suicide can help you save the life of a family member, friend or colleague. The Vermont Suicide Prevention Center (VTSPC), a public/private partnership with the Vermont Department of Mental Health, lists the following warning signs that should signal immediate concern and action when a person exhibits them:
• Mentioning or threatening suicide or expressing a strong wish to die
• Making a plan—how, when or where to do it
• Seeking access to lethal means—guns, medications, poisons, rope, alcohol, cars
• Talking, writing, drawing or texting about death, dying or suicide
• Giving away prized possessions, putting one’s life in order
• Showing abrupt improvement after a period of sadness or withdrawal
• Feeling “beyond help”
Other warning signs may indicate that a person is in severe psychological pain: Increased alcohol or other drug use
• Abandonment of activities once considered enjoyable
• Impulsiveness and unnecessary risk-taking
• Neglect of personal appearance
• Preoccupation with death (through music, poetry, drawings, video games, movies)
• Severe mood swings
• Persistent feelings of failure
• Unexpected anger or wish for revenge
• Persistent physical complaints
• Difficulty concentrating
While these symptom may not signal an immediate emergency, please help the person in pain find help.
The following are Indications of serious depression that could lead to suicide:
• Unrelenting low mood
• No sense of purpose in life
• Anxiety, agitation or psychic pain
• Sleep problems
• Pessimism or hopelessness
• Desperation or feeling trapped
• Withdrawal from family and friends
People with these symptoms should seek care. Depression is treatable.
If you have lost someone to suicide or know someone else in that heartbreaking situation, please know there is help. The Vermont Suicide Prevention Center (VTSPC) offers resources for survivors of suicide loss and a listing of support groups across the state.
While Vermont and Lamoille County have suffered disproportionally with more suicides in recent years, I believe that our community and our state have the strength and resilience to band together and reverse these alarming trends. Every month should be suicide prevention month.