Every major city in Tennessee offers a wealth of mental health and counseling resources for people in crisis. Knowing about these agencies and when to refer people to them can literally make the difference between life and death.
Some basic facts about suicide, on the national and state level:
• Some 47,000 Americans die by suicide each year, making suicide the tenth-leading cause of death in the US.
• Suicide rates among youth (ages 15-24) have tripled since the 1950s. Suicide is the leading cause of death in Tennessee within the 10-17 age group … and the second-leading cause among adults 10-24.
• Every day, 129 people die by suicide in the United States – about one every 11 minutes.
• While females are more likely to attempt suicide, men are more likely to die from a suicide attempt.
• In the state of Tennessee, 1,163 people died by suicide in 2017. 75 of these people were between the ages of 10 and 19.
The Reasons Why
Suicide is never caused by a single event. It is the result of many factors over a period of time. Following are some common causes of suicidal thoughts or behavior in teens and young adults:
• Pressures such as unrealistic academic, professional, social or family expectations can create a strong sense of rejection and can lead to deep disappointment. Teens and young adults are especially prone to feelings of loneliness, hopelessness and rejection as a result of these pressures.
• Depression in young people is increasing at an alarming rate. Recent surveys indicate that as many as 1 in 5 teens suffers from clinical depression, and it can be difficult to detect in young people. But it is extremely important that depressed youth receive prompt, professional treatment.
• High-risk behaviors such as substance abuse, unsafe sexual behavior, reckless spending, or self-injury behaviors are ways that some people cope with feelings of depression or loneliness. However, such behaviors only lead to new problems and a deeper level of depression.
• Certain populations such as people with mental or physical disabilities, GLBT persons, or people who are victims of bullying or harassment are at higher risk for suicide and suicide attempts.
• Isolation or withdrawal can also be a coping strategy for suicidal people making them even more susceptible to loneliness, depression and substance abuse.
Risk Factors and Warning Signs
• Previous suicide attempts
• Giving away prized possessions, making final arrangements, putting affairs in order
• Themes of death or depression in conversation, writing, reading or art
• Recent loss of friend or family member, especially through divorce, death, or suicide
• Sudden dramatic decline or improvement in schoolwork
• Use or increased use of drugs and/or alcohol
• Chronic headaches, stomachaches, or fatigue
• Withdrawal or isolation from friends, family or school activities
• Neglect of personal appearance
• Taking unnecessary risks
• No longer interested in favorite activities or hobbies
• Changed eating or sleeping patterns
• Talking about, making plans or threatening suicide. (If this happens, take immediate action.)
Most suicidal people give some of the clues and warning signs listed here. By learning the warning signs, paying attention and trusting your own judgment, you can make the difference between life and death.
Any one of these signals alone doesn’t necessarily indicate a person is suicidal. However, several signals may be cause for concern. Signals are especially important if the person has attempted suicide in the past. Listen. Be a friend. Get professional help. Your actions may save a life.
What to Do (and What Not to Do)
Some important guidelines to follow when dealing with a deeply troubled or actively suicidal person:
• Talk it out, offer help, and most importantly, listen. If you think someone is considering suicide, don’t be afraid to ask them, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?”
• Deeply depressed people need reassurance that someone cares. Show interest in the person and be supportive. Let them know that help is available.
• Trust your instincts. If the situation seems serious, seek prompt help.
• Since untreated depression is the leading cause of suicide, professional help is of utmost importance. Alert key people in that person’s life—family, friends, etc.—and recommend they connect the person with local mental health resources.
• Don’t act shocked or judgmental, or lecture on the reasons a person has to live. Allow the person to express his or her feelings and accept those statements as real and important.
• Don’t give advice or false reassurances or offer easy answers.
• Don’t be afraid to talk directly about suicide and get specifics. The more specific the plan, the greater the risk.
• Don’t dismiss the problems as unimportant. Don’t minimize the threat.
• Never keep a person’s suicidal feelings a secret. Saving a life is more important than keeping a promise.
Where to Get Help
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This nationwide hotline connects to a nationwide network of certified local crisis centers, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
In the event of an emergency where someone is in immediate danger of death or injury, call 911 immediately.
For non-emergency information and resources about suicide prevention, visit the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network website at www.tspn.org. The site features fact sheets and statistics about suicide, suicide and mental health reading lists and links, and customized local resource directories available for free download.