A BRIGHTER TOMORROW: Suicide Prevention Town Hall
September is National Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America. The American Psychological Association says COVID-19's impact on suicide is still unknown. However, the pandemic has increased stress for many Americans, while at the same time, making it difficult to access resources used to cope with stress.
KOMU 8's Megan Judy sat down with the Missouri Department of Mental Health's Suicide Prevention Coordinator Stacey Williams to discuss what warning signs to look for in a loved one.
Q: Four people die by suicide every day in Missouri. It seems like such a staggering statistic, so how does Missouri match up to other states in the country?
A: Missouri ranks around 18th or 19th in suicide rates out of all 50 states. In 2019, Missouri had about 1,100 suicides.
Q: That number went down in 2018, so are you, or your department, concerned that this pandemic, along with the other struggles of 2020, could affect that rate for next year?
A: Yes, over the last ten years, we have seen a steady increase in our suicide rates, but in 2019, we saw a decrease of over 7%, which is really good news. The Missouri Department of Mental Health is concerned about the current pandemic increasing suicide rates. We have been meeting the Missouri Suicide Prevention Network several times a month to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 and put out the message for folks to reach out.
Q: Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the 10-17 age-range. Do you think that the age group needs more attention?
A: The Missouri Department of Mental Health has been focusing a lot on that age group. We are working with the school system to provide a message of hope and spread the message of the crisis text line. You can text MOSAVE to 741-741 and talk to a crisis counselor anytime. It is free and confidential. It's just letting folks know there are more people out there experiencing the same thing and that there's help out there at the touch of a hand.
Q: Approximately 60% of suicides in Missouri involved a gun, does having a gun in the house increase the chance of a completed suicide?
A: It doesn't necessarily increase the chances of a completed suicide, but there are certain steps you can take to lessen the risk, such as locking up the gun, separating the ammo from the gun. Some people put a picture of a loved one on the lockbox, so even if you are contemplating suicide, you would see it if you were to open the case.
Q: What are the warning signs to look for in a loved one?
A: The things we really hone in on is if someone is talking about being a burden to others, talking about wanting to die or just wanting to be done with everything. If you see a notable change in their behavior, such as if they are a really happy person and noticed they are isolated and not talking at all. Drug and alcohol use increase is also a sign; those folks are at a higher risk for suicide. If you notice they are withdrawing from everything, they would normally do. Anything that makes you think they're not themselves. It's important if you see those signs that you reach out and ask if there is anything they want to talk about. Ask -- how are you feeling and even ask the question are you having thoughts of suicide? Sometimes when folks are going through the same thing as you are, they have thoughts of suicide and ask if that's what you're experiencing, as well.
Q: So you recommend asking that point-blank question, are you having thoughts of suicide, not dancing around the subject?
A: Yes, it can be really relieving for some people just to have it asked for them because they might never want to say it out loud, but you're opening that door just by asking them the question.
Q: What are the next steps for someone concerned about a loved one?
A: The next step would be if they do say yes, I have been thinking about suicide, listen to them, and then reach out and help them connect to services. We have crisis services locally; you can go to MOHELPNOW.org and find your local crisis center. You can also call the national suicide prevention lifeline with them right there. That number is 1-800-273-8255, and they can also give you advice on what the next steps are. Everyone is experiencing a lot of stress right now. There is so much going on. If you are slightly concerned about someone, reach out, talk with them, and let them know you are there to listen and then help them get help.
Q: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number recently changed to a three-digit number. How important do you think that will be?
A: It hasn't taken effect yet in Missouri, but it will be huge! It will take effect in less than two years. Some states are already looking into turning it on early, but we want to make sure everything is ready before we turn it on here. It will be huge because it will be for all mental health crisis and suicide prevention. Just like 911 is for a physical health crisis, this will be for all mental health crisis.
If you're experiencing suicidal thoughts, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741 to get help.