The news of two recent celebrity suicide deaths is both tragic and shocking and brings high-profile attention to a growing problem.
Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States and one of the few leading causes of death that’s actually increasing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide rates have increased in nearly every state from 1999 through 2016—including a 36 percent increase in Ohio during that time.
“Suicide is preventable and there are steps to take, but we’re often not sure about the suffering people are enduring due to the stigma associated with mental illness,” said Dr. Albana Dreshaj, medical director of the St. Vincent Charity Medical Center Psychiatric Emergency Department.
Dr. Dreshaj offers some advice for those who might be struggling with suicidal thoughts or know someone who is.
Know the warning signs.
“Suicidal thoughts are a reflection of the mind being taken hostage. You might lose your judgement, have impaired decision making skills, have tunnel vision or don’t see options any longer,” said Dr. Dreshaj.
Signs to watch for include:
- Becoming isolated or withdrawn
- Feeling helpless or hopeless
- Feeling like you’re a burden to others
- Sleep issues, either having great difficulty falling asleep at night or sleeping much more than before
- Becoming obsessed with death and dying, and those who have died
- Substance abuse, whether alcohol or drugs
- Easily accessible guns are a huge risk factor for people with suicidal thoughts
“If you see signs in someone and behavior that seems out of the norm, it’s better to overreact than to underreact,” said Dr. Dreshaj.
Don’t be afraid to talk about suicide.
If a friend or family member is suicidal, the best way to help is by offering a listening ear. According to Dr. Dreshaj, the first step is to reach out to that person, preferably face-to-face. “You can call them, but it’s better to see them in person. See how they look and act, and show them there are people who care,” she explained.
Some questions to ask and ways to have this difficult, but necessary, discussion:
- Are you having a hard time? Are you struggling?
- Are you having dangerous thoughts?
- Are you having thoughts of dying or hurting yourself?
- Do you want to go to sleep and not wake up?
- What is it that is making you not want to live?
- What is going on in your life that if it went away, things would be better? (to determine their stressor or stressors and help them verbalize their feelings)
- What would you miss in life if you weren’t here? Or who would miss you?
- How can I best support you right now?
“Be frank and honest, really inquire about how they are feeling. Don’t be afraid to speak about suicide. It could save someone’s life,” added Dr. Dreshaj.
Get professional help—either immediate or longer term.
There are many resources available to help prevent something tragic, both for the person experiencing suicidal thoughts or for a friend or family member trying to help.
- Call 911 if there appears to be an immediate or high risk for suicide, remove any potentially lethal objects from the vicinity and do not leave them alone
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 (available 24/7)
- Call the local FrontLine Services Crisis Hotline 216-623-6888 (available 24/7)
- Come to the St. Vincent Charity Medical Center Psychiatric Emergency Department 216-363-2538 (available 24/7)
“If you don’t know what to do, call one of these phone numbers or go to the Psychiatric Emergency Department,” said Dr. Dreshaj.
Determine which type of mental health professional or treatment facility is the best fit.
“If someone is really struggling, the best place to start is with a psychiatrist. They can tell you what’s best, prescribe medication if needed and refer you to a psychologist or therapist if that makes the most sense,” said Dr. Dreshaj. She said for those who have health insurance, they can refer to the behavioral health number on the back of their insurance card to find a psychiatrist in their area who is part of their insurance plan. If someone does not have health insurance, they can call the local FrontLine Services Crisis Hotline 216-623-6888 for a referral.
Start the conversation about mental health early.
Teenage suicide is also a growing problem, with stress, emotional turbulence and depression all being factors. According to Dr. Dreshaj, parents or other family members should not worry about putting ideas in children’s heads as was once speculated. “Ask questions if there are any worries about a child who is more withdrawn, has regressive behavior, or a preoccupation with death and dying,” she said.
She advised following the same protocol as above for discussing suicide and using the resources mentioned. She also advised taking them to the emergency room an emergency room that specialies in pediatrics or to a hospital where there are pediatric psychiatric units that can more readily serve this population. She said taking them to the nearest emergency room is also an option and they will transfer the patient to the most appropriate location.
“Never be afraid to ask your child about wishing to die, and thoughts of hurting him or herself when signs of depression are demonstrated. It’s better to err on the side of inquiry then neglect,” Dr. Dreshaj added. “Take these reports seriously and immediately contact mental health specialists. Children will attempt to make sense of depression and feelings of wishing to die relying on their limited resources.”
The St. Vincent Charity Medical Center Psychiatric Emergency Department can help.
The Psychiatric Emergency Department is only one of two in Ohio and serves as a crisis center, providing a safety net for nearly 4,000 patients annually who need immediate behavioral health care in an emergency setting. The department has psychiatric care available around the clock staffed by a team of psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, social workers and mental health technicians. The department also fields referrals from all other area hospitals and mental health facilities for adult clients who suffer from acute mental health issues.
“We try to alleviate immediate stressors, evaluate the patient and determine if they need to be admitted to one of three units within our facility (acute, sub-acute or geriatric) or our hospital’s chemical dependency unit,” explained Dr. Dreshaj. “They can also stay with us for up to 23 hours without being admitted.”
For more information, call 216-363-2538.