ServiceNet offers guidelines to help prevent suicide

NORTHAMPTON – The statistics about suicide are daunting: there is one death by suicide in the US every 13 minutes; suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15–29-year-olds; the majority of people who die by suicide suffer from depression; over the past 15 years, the total suicide rate has increased by 24%.

But there is hope. Treatment for depression and suicidal behavior can be highly effective. In fact, 80% -90% of people who seek help for depression are treated successfully with therapy and/or medication. But because of the stigma attached to mental health challenges, many people do not reach out for treatment. Getting past this barrier is the first step toward prevention, according to Karen Franklin, Vice President of Outpatient Services for ServiceNet, a mental health and human services organization based in Northampton, with five behavioral health centers located throughout western Massachusetts. Friends and family can help by challenging their own bias and by encouraging their loved one to seek professional support.

National Suicide Prevention Week, September 10-16, is a time to call attention to this important mental health issue. It is routine in the outpatient behavioral setting to be screened for suicide risk. “We ask the same few basic questions of anyone who comes to us for therapy,” said Franklin. “When we have a concern, we ask a series of additional questions to determine what would be the best and safest course of action. The individual’s plan might include psychiatric evaluation, treatment with medication for depression, individual therapy, group therapy, or any combination of these approaches.”

People who have attempted suicide in the past are at increased risk, and they may benefit from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). “This therapy was specifically developed to prevent suicide in those who had already attempted it,” said Anna Remen, Director of the Adult DBT program for ServiceNet, “and the research has proven it to be highly effective.” ServiceNet was the first mental health organization in the Pioneer Valley to use DBT, starting in 1994. “Our goal is to help people build a life for themselves in which they no longer consider suicide an option,” said Remen.

As painful as suicidal thoughts and feelings are for the individual who is experiencing them, the impact of losing a loved one to suicide is devastating to those left behind. The loss is often accompanied by haunting questions: Why? Could we have prevented this? Did we do something wrong? There are often feelings of anger at the deceased, self-blame, hurt and of course sadness.

Suicide prevention saves lives and spares family and friends the painful impact of this loss which can last for years. Everyone can do their part. “Knowing what to look for is the first step, and having the courage to discuss it is the second.” noted Franklin.

Some of the signs that a person may be contemplating suicide include: increasing depression and expressed feelings of hopelessness; writing to friends and family to say goodbye; being unwilling to commit to long-term plans; stockpiling medications; looking up suicide methods online; and giving way things and pets.

“If you see any of these signs in a friend or family member, don’t be afraid to talk to them about it,” advised Remen. “We may believe it’s an invasion of their privacy, or worry that we will plant the idea in their head. But staying silent is not the answer,” she said. “And by speaking up, we let them know we care, and are concerned. This is an important message to give to someone who may believe they have become a burden to others and that suicide is the only way out.”

Just as important is knowing who to call.  Each community has a crisis services team, and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) will connect callers directly to the crisis team closest to them.