VA Maryland Health Care System Busts Myths about Suicide

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September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and a good time to revisit the myths and facts about suicide. According to Nikole Jones, LCSW-C, Suicide Prevention Coordinator of the VA Maryland Health Care System, knowing the risk factors for self-harm and the warning signs of those who are considering self-harm can be vital.

Suicide happens when people feel that they have no other options for ending pain or suffering.

Many myths about suicide inhibit people who want to help," says Nikole Jones, suicide prevention coordinator at the VA Maryland Health Care System.

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and a good time to revisit the myths and facts about suicide. The VA estimates nationally, 22 veterans die each day from suicide. According to Nikole Jones, LCSW-C, Suicide Prevention Coordinator of the VA Maryland Health Care System, knowing the risk factors for self-harm and the warning signs of those who are considering self-harm can be vital. “Many myths about suicide inhibit people who want to help from taking steps to get the help that they need,” says Jones.

The reality is that two in three Veterans returning from conflicts readjust reasonably well, but one in three report issues with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, or suffer the effects of pain and of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) that can lead to feeling desperate and hopeless. Some of the risks factors for suicide include depression, pain, grief, loss of a relationship, serious injury or long-term illness. Other risk factors include legal, financial, family, work or social problems. Having a family member who committed suicide also increases the risk of suicide in the surviving family members and friends. To promote safety among Veterans, the VA Maryland Health Care System distributes free gun locks to Veterans throughout the year, no questions asked, but during the month of September, they will be available in baskets throughout the system and Veterans can take as many as they need.

Below are some commonly held myths about suicide and the facts to address them, followed by a list of warning signs compiled by the Suicide Prevention Team at the VA Maryland Health Care System.

Myths and Facts:

Myth: If someone asks about suicide, it will increase a loved one’s desire to kill themselves.
Fact: Suicide happens when people feel that they have no other options for ending pain or suffering. Suicide prevention discussions are aimed at giving hope and information about finding help.

Myth: Anyone who tries to kill him/herself must be crazy.
Fact: Most suicidal people are not psychotic or insane. They may be upset, grief-stricken, depressed, or despairing, which can lead to mental confusion, repetitive thinking, rigid thinking, and tunnel vision. These symptoms can be alleviated with treatment.

Myth: If a person is determined to kill him/herself, nothing is going to stop him/her.
Fact: Even the most severely depressed person has mixed feelings about death and most waver until the very last moment between wanting to live and wanting to die. Most suicidal people do not want to die. They want the pain to stop.

Myth: People who talk about suicide won’t really do it.
Fact: Almost everyone who commits or attempts suicide has given some clue or warning. Please do not ignore suicide threats. Statements like, “You’ll be sorry when I’m dead,” and “I can’t see any way out,” or “I need a permanent sleep,”—no matter how casually or jokingly said, may indicate serious suicidal feelings.

Myth: Once a person is suicidal, then that person is suicidal always.
Fact: Nine of 10 people who are suicidal have depression. Depression CAN be cured. Longstanding depression causes brain changes that need to be corrected with antidepressant medication. For severe or long-standing depression, the most effective help comes from antidepressant medications, counseling, and lifestyle changes.

Myth: Asking someone if he or she is feeling suicidal may give them the idea.
Fact: Talking about suicide does not give a suicidal person ideas. The opposite is true: bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly may be one of the most helpful things to do.

Risk Factors Include:

  •     history of suicide attempt
  •     family history of suicide or suicide attempts
  •     chronic pain
  •     mental health or substance abuse diagnosis
  •     homelessness
  •     limited social supports
  •     access to lethal means (guns)
  •     history of abuse (physical, emotional, sexual)
  •     financial problems
  •     impulsivity

Warning Signs Include:

  •     direct statements about wanting to die;
  •     making preparations for death in the near future;
  •     increased drinking or drug use
  •     greater levels of risk-taking behaviors;
  •     giving away important personal possessions;
  •     changes in personality;
  •     withdrawal from family and friends;
  •     excessive spending without financial resources;
  •     thinking about death frequently;
  •     buying a weapon;
  •     stock piling potentially lethal medications;
  •     making a practice run or making a suicide plan.

How to Help Someone Considering Suicide:

  •     know the risk factors and warning signs;
  •     talk openly with your loved one, or your friend;
  •     show care and concern;
  •     take the person’s threats of suicide seriously;
  •     never underestimate the power of understanding and support;
  •     obtain professional help;
  •     call an ambulance or law enforcement personnel in an emergency and transport person to a hospital;
  •     do not sound shocked;
  •     do not promise anything you can’t guarantee;
  •     do not argue with the person;
  •     do not argue about moral issues;
  •     do not leave the person alone;
  •     do not agree to keep the suicide threat a secret;
  •     do not remain the only person providing help.

Convince Your Suicidal Loved One to Get Help by Calling:

  •     Contact your family Doctor;
  •     Contact your Chaplain/Pastor;
  •     Contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) *Press 1;
  •     Escort them to the closest Hospital Emergency Room;
  •     Call 911 for imminent risk

Reporter Note: Suicide Prevention Coordinator, Nikole Jones is available for interviews. To arrange interview times, call Rosalia Scalia, public affairs specialist, at 410.605.7464 or via email at rosalia(dot)scalia(at)va(dot)gov.

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Rosalia Scalia
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