Raising Awareness to Save Lives

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(This article appeared in the July/August 2013 edition of The American Postal Worker.)

Sue Carney, Director Human Relations Dept.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that every 13 minutes someone in the U.S. commits suicide. More than 38,360 Americans died by suicide in 2010.

The CDC found that women attempt suicide three times as often as men, but men commit suicide four times as often as women. Over the last decade, the greatest increase in suicide rates — 49 percent — was among people 50-59 years old. The median age of postal workers is near 50.

Even more upsetting is that over the last several years, on average one postal employee has committed suicide per week. Suicide is preventable.

Warning Signs, Risk Factors

Indicators of a heightened suicide risk that require immediate attention include: Thinking about ways to hurt or kill oneself; seeking access to pills, weapons or other means, and talking or writing about death, dying or suicide.

The presence of the following signs indicate a need for contact with a professional: Sleep problems; withdrawing from friends, family or society; increased alcohol or drug use; acting recklessly, impulsively or engaging is risky behavior; feeling rage; seeking revenge; avoiding normal activities or reliving past experiences; experiencing anxiety or agitation; dramatic changes in mood; weight loss or gain; feeling extreme pessimism — that there is no reason for living or no sense of purpose in life; feeling trapped or hopeless.

Mental health and emotional issues are contributing factors to more than 90 percent of all suicides. Most suicidal people are not psychotic or insane. The most common emotional risk factors include depression, alcoholism and drug abuse. People who take their own lives might be upset, grief-stricken, or despairing. Other recognized risk factors are Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), eating disorders, major physical illnesses, chronic pain, a history of trauma, abuse or sexual assault, being bullied, a family history of suicide, being separated, widowed, divorced or other relationship problems, financial or legal woes, joblessness, homelessness, living alone and isolation.

Say Something

Know the warning signs and take them seriously. Encourage a person who seems to be at risk to get help. You do not need to diagnose or understand the reason for thoughts of suicide to help someone seek assistance from a professional. If you feel a person is in danger of hurting himself, ask if he (or she) is having thoughts about suicide. It may be uncomfortable, but it is not a conversation that should be avoided. Know how to manage your own discomfort in order to directly address the issue. Be direct. You can say, “You look upset. Are you ok? Can I help?” or, “Have you thought of hurting or killing yourself?”

Be willing to actively listen. Interact in a manner that shows concern and understanding about what the individual is saying. Don’t be judgmental or act shocked. Remove any items that could be used for self-injury. Stay calm and safe. Don’t ask why, give advice, or lecture. Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Don’t leave the person alone or leave abruptly. Respect the individual’s privacy. Do everything you can to encourage the person to seek help. Explain that trained professionals will know what to do. Let the person know that treatment often makes things better. If the person refuses because his or her previous efforts didn’t work, try suggesting, “Maybe this time it will. Different counselors offer different perspectives and options. Let’s just see what they have to say.”

Refer anyone who seems suicidal to EAP (Employee Assistance Program), local resources, or one of the suicide prevention hotlines on the facing page for evaluation and assistance, or escort him or her to a nearby clinic or emergency room. Don’t forget to follow-up to see how the person is doing.

The action you take could save a life.

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