As much as National Cheese Pizza Day, Beer Lover’s Day, or Read-a-Book Day are close to my heart, Suicide Prevention Week (September 5-11 each year) will always take top billing. Someone on Earth dies from suicide every 40 seconds–a rate that has risen 60% in the past 45 years, and continues to rise at an alarming rate. It’s heartbreaking, it’s painful, and it’s entirely preventable.
There is no single cause of suicide, but there are warning signs that you can watch for in the weeks, days, and hours leading up to the act. Knowing and understanding these warning signs are essential to preventing suicides before they occur. Listen to what someone has to say, look for behavioural cues, and pay attention to the moods of someone at risk.
The mnemonic for remembering the warning sides for suicide is IS PATH WARM.
I — Ideation (suicidal thoughts)
S — Substance Abuse (this can include non-prescription drug use, including over-medicating with cough and cold medications, Tylenol with Codeine/Tylenol 1’s, and combining multiple OTC medications for a dulling effect).
P — Purposelessness
A — Anxiety
T — Trapped
H — Hopelessness/Helplessness
W — Withdrawl
A — Anger
R — Recklessness
M — Mood Changes
It is very important to understand that many, many people can be at risk for suicide, and that not all prominently display their warning signs. When I was suicidal, I internalized everything that I was thinking and feeling because I did not want to continue to burden anyone with my problems. For me, over-sleeping and withdrawing from my closest friends and family were my only outward warning signs–two signs that are nearly indistinguishable from the depressed phases of my bipolar disorder.
Though not a blueprint, the following list of risk factors help identify individuals that should be monitored for warning signs:
- Mental health conditions
- Bipolar (manic-depressive) disorder
- Borderline or antisocial personality disorder
- Conduct disorder
- Psychotic disorders, or psychotic symptoms in the context of any disorder
- Anxiety disorders
- Substance abuse disorders
- Serious or chronic health condition and/or pain
- Stressful life events which may include a death, divorce, or job loss
- Prolonged stress factors which may include harassment, bullying, relationship problems, and unemployment
- Access to lethal means including firearms and drugs
- Exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of suicide
- Previous suicide attempts
- Family history of suicide attempts
Unfortunately, suicide is a worldwide epidemic that touches people of all races, classes, religions, and locations. By working together to understand who is at risk, and the warning signs they may present, we can help our friends, neighbours, coworkers, and family members through their issues and allow them to lead long and healthy lives.
For more information about suicide prevention, please visit suicideprevention.ca.
If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please find your local suicide hotline here. All known international hotlines are included on this list.
And please remember: no matter your struggles, you are important. You are worthy, you are loved, and you deserve to live.