Raising Awareness to Prevent Suicide: Results from a National Survey

The month of September includes National Suicide Prevention Month, National Suicide Prevention Week, and World Suicide Prevention Day. So it’s timely and of interest that the Harris Poll organization recently released the results from their online survey of 2,020 US adults (age 18 and over) regarding attitudes and experiences related to suicide awareness. The survey was prepared for the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the National Alliance for Suicide Prevention.

The survey findings are quite illuminating, so let’s do a quick review.

Do you know someone who has considered or completed suicide?

  • 55% said they know someone who has either talked about, attempted, or died by suicide
  • 32% know someone who has died by suicide
  • 26% know someone who has talked to them about thoughts of suicide
  • 25% know someone who has attempted suicide but didn’t die

Can you tell if someone is suicidal?

While few (26%) feel they can tell if someone is suicidal, the majority (74%) believe most people who die by suicide usually show some signs beforehand.

Why do people choose to kill themselves?

  • 48% believe suicide is a way to escape pain
  • 39% feel it is a selfish act
  • 29% say suicide is an impulsive act
  • 20% see it as a sign of weakness or cowardice
  • 18% feel that suicide is a person’s right

What increases the risk for suicide?

Both various life situations (86%) and mental health conditions (86%) can increase a person’s risk of suicide. Drugs and alcohol (67%) and chronic health conditions (66%) are also seen as risk-enhancing factors.

Are anxiety and depression risk factors for suicide?

While most recognize depression (79%) and PTSD (61%) as suicide risk factors, less than half (47%) are aware of the role of anxiety or panic disorder in increasing a person’s risk for suicide. Women (50%) are more likely than men (44%) to be aware of this connection.

Is suicide preventable?

The vast majority (94%) think suicide is preventable to some degree. More specifically, 43% believe suicide can always or often be prevented, and 51% feel it can sometimes be prevented. Almost half who know someone who has talked about, attempted, or died by suicide believe suicide is always or often preventable (47%). Young adults (under age 35) are more likely to believe that suicide can always or often be prevented.

Can you stop someone from killing themselves?

A large majority (81%) disagree that if someone wants to die by suicide, there is nothing anyone can do about it.

Would you help someone close to you who is thinking about suicide?

The overwhelming majority (93%) said yes. However, men (16%) are significantly more likely than women (11%) to say they would not reach out to others who are contemplating suicide.

How would you help someone who is considering suicide?

The most common ways to help were:

  • Encourage them to seek help from a mental health professional, doctor, or clergy (78%)
  • Call a crisis hotline or provide information for a crisis hotline or other resource (61%)
  • Tell them you are worried about them (54%)
  • Talk with their friends or family about your concerns (50%)
  • 5% say they wouldn’t know what to do
  • Only 1% wouldn’t do anything because they feel it’s none of their business

What might stop you from trying to help?

24% would be afraid they would make them feel worse, while 23% wouldn’t know what to say or do. 18% would be afraid there may be nothing they can do to help, and 16% would be afraid that talking about it would make them attempt suicide.

What barriers prevent people who are thinking about suicide from seeking help?

  • 74% believe it is because they feel like nothing will help
  • 68% think people don’t know how to get help
  • 65% say embarrassment and 64% say a lack of hope
  • 62% think treatment isn’t affordable
  • 53% believe there is a lack of access to appropriate treatment

What would help reduce the number of suicides?

  • Better access to psychotherapy or medication (63%)
  • Better training for health care providers (62%)
  • More research into how to help people and why people die by suicide (60%)
  • Educating the public about suicide prevention (59%)

Who would you tell if you were considering suicide?

Most (67%) know who they would tell if they were having thoughts of suicide. 56% would inform a friend, family member, or spouse, and 43% would reach out to a healthcare professional. Of concern is that 13% say they wouldn’t tell anyone.

A time for reflection

These survey findings confirm that knowing someone who has considered, attempted, or completed suicide is unfortunately a very common occurrence. However, the responses are encouraging in that there is a strong and widespread belief that suicide is often or always preventable and most people would intervene to help someone they know who is considering suicide.

Yet, several barriers to helping someone who is suicidal are still present. Furthermore, the stigma surrounding suicide remains strong, as evidenced by beliefs that taking one’s own life is a personal weakness or an act of cowardice or selfishness.

Let’s all take time to reflect on what we will do when (not if) we next encounter a friend or loved one who is considering suicide. Despite the barriers (both real and imagined) that may present themselves, we need to find the courage to act quickly and responsibly to help someone in need. It really is a matter of life and death, and with knowledge, support, and perhaps a little luck on our side, life can win.

Here’s a question: How would you respond if you were concerned that someone close to you was considering suicide? Please leave a comment. Also, please consider subscribing to my blog and feel free to follow me on Twitter, “like” my Facebook page, or connect on LinkedIn. Thanks!

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