Help. The message that help exists is essential not only this September for Suicide Prevention Awareness Week, but always and forever. The National Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Crisis Text Line through texting HOME to 741741 are available 24/7 to offer support during times of crisis. While always a difficult conversation to begin and maintain, resources are available for anyone experiencing thoughts of suicide or engaging in self-harm. Many individuals experiencing suicidal thoughts are contemplating about a permanent solution to a temporary problem. It is important to understand that protective factors exists that lessen the probability of suicide, such as family members, faith/religion, peers, support systems, pets, and many other factors. Someone undergoing a crisis is unable to realize this due to a tunnel vision state, thus it is critical to understand the facts and be aware of how we can help.
Let’s Help. Learning to identify behavior red-flags and redirecting to mental health emergency authorities and/or psychological services can effectively allow us to help someone in urgent need.
Addressing the Need for Suicide Awareness Among Minorities
Death by suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and takes the lives of 44,965 Americans every year — 123 every day, and one person every 12 minutes. Many risk factors exist, such as biological, personal, and environmental. One biological risk factor is culture and ethnicity. Certain cultural groups and immigrants can be at a higher risk of suicide compared to general populations, according to a 2018 study. Among Hispanics, the CDC reported that suicide was 12th leading cause of death but the third among male Hispanics. In the latest report of the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) using 2017 data, the statistic reveal the following rates of suicide per every 100,000 among minority groups:
- American Indians/Alaskan citizens: 22.15
- Non-Hispanic whites: 17.83
- Pacific Islanders: 6.75
- Blacks: 6.85
- Hispanics: 6.89
Although the suicide rates among minorities appear to be lower (with the exception of American Indians and Alaskan Natives), certain subgroups among minorities can be at higher rates of suicide compared the general population. For instance, when comparing among general minority and U.S. population, the following subgroups demonstrate higher risk of suicidality:
- Native American/Alaskan Native young adults between ages 15 and 34 (CDC, 2018)
- Black children under the age of 12 (Sean, 2018)
- Black men between ages 15 and 19 (Sean, 2018)
- Black men and adolescents with a mental illness (Sean, 2018)
- Female Hispanic adolescents (Zayas et al., 2005; Zayas & Pilat, 2008)
- Hispanic students (Attempted suicide: 10.2% Hispanics, 7.8% total U.S.) (SPRC, 2013)
- Puerto Rican adults (Baca-Garcia et al., 2011)
Managing a Suicidal Situation: a Proactive Recommendation
A part of raising suicide awareness involves learning how to act in suicidality-related situations. While encountering or knowing that someone that has suicidal behavior/thoughts can be a complex situation, you are not alone. 9-1-1 is always an option to resource to in emergencies. Additionally, and as per the Mayo Clinic, some general guidelines to follow include:
- Ask and Listen. Addressing the difficult but paramount question is vital to address the situation and redirect someone in a time of crisis. Asking direct questions such as “Are you thinking about dying?” and “Do you have access to weapons?” is the first step in managing the situation.
- Warning Signs. Behaviors can often tell us what words may hide. Some behavioral warning signs include:
- Mood swings
- Increased drug/alcohol usage or pill stocking
- Severe personality changes
- Avoiding social contact and/or saying goodbye to loved ones
- Giving personal belongings away
- Assist. Redirect. If someone has expressed suicidal thoughts or behaviors, stay close and offer companionship. As always, refer the person to a mental health professional. Emergency rooms will be able to further assist. 9-1-1 and the Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) are always available.
A message to the Public
If you or a loved one is struggling with suicidal thoughts, reach out to the help and resources available below. Local and national sources are available to assist during difficult times. As always, do not be afraid to make the tough but necessary question of “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” Redirecting someone in need to the RGV’s mental health authority, Tropical Texas Behavioral Center, or the closest emergency room can save a life. A mind in crisis may first confide or reveal suicidal behaviors to a relative, friend, or a colleague before a mental health professional.
- The National Suicide Prevention Program is available 24/7 (800-273-8255).
- United Way of South Texas Helpline (956-686-6331)
- Women Together Foundation (956-630-4878)
- TTBH Crisis Hotline (956-278-7000)
- UTRGV Vaqueros Crisis Hotline – for students (956-665-5555)
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Crisis Text Line (Text TALK to 741741)
(Co-authors include Dr. Mercado’s Mental Health Lab at UTRGV: Andy Torres, Ana Maria Moreno Ortiz, Maria Garcia, and Dr. Gabriel Davalos-Picazo)