Honest and tough conversations can save lives

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – a time to share resources and information to shed light on this highly taboo and stigmatized topic. It is a good opportunity to reach out to those affected by suicide, raise awareness and connect individuals with suicidal ideas to treatment services. It is important for all of us to have the information we need to discuss suicide prevention.

One of the top 10 causes of death for Oregonians is suicide. Oregon has more deaths each year from suicide than motor vehicle accidents. There are more than 600 deaths by suicide and more than 1,800 hospitalizations due to suicide in Oregon each year. [i] The friends and family members (suicide loss survivors) left behind are forced to navigate the tragedy of loss. In many cases, suicide loss survivors are left in the dark. Too often the feelings of shame and stigma prevent them from talking openly.

Suicidal thoughts, much like other mental health conditions, can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation or background. In fact, suicide is often the result of pain from an untreated mental health condition. Suicidal thoughts, although common, should not be considered normal and often indicate more serious issues.

Crisis resources

  • If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call 9-1-1 immediately.
  • If you are in crisis or are experiencing difficult or suicidal thoughts, you can call the National Suicide hotline/Lines for Life (Oregon) at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
  • If you are uncomfortable talking on the phone, you can text 273TALK to 839863 at Lines for Life in Oregon. They also have veteran’s and teen peer support available.

Know the warning signs

Any person exhibiting these behaviors should get help immediately:

  • Threats or comments about killing themselves, also known as suicidal ideation, can begin with seemingly harmless thoughts like “I wish I wasn’t here” but can become more overt and dangerous.
  • Increased alcohol or drug use.
  • Aggressive behavior.
  • Social withdrawal from friends, family and the community.
  • Dramatic mood swings.
  • Talking, thinking or writing about death.
  • Impulsive or reckless behavior.
  • Putting their affairs in order and giving away their possessions.
  • Saying goodbye to friends and family.
  • Mood shifts from despair to calm.
  • Planning, possibly by looking to buy, steal or borrow the tools they need to commit suicide, such as a gun or prescription medication.

If you are unsure, a licensed mental health professional or your primary care provider can help assess risk. These services are a covered benefit for Columbia Pacific CCO members and other Oregon Health Plan recipients.

Risk factors for suicide

Research has found that about 90 percent of individuals who die by suicide are experiencing mental illness. A variety of things may put a person at risk of suicide, including:

  • A family history of suicide.
  • Substance abuse -- drugs and alcohol can result in mental highs and lows that exacerbate suicidal thoughts.
  • Intoxication – more than one in three people who die from suicide are found to be currently under the influence.
  • Access to guns.
  • A serious or chronic illness.
  • Gender – although more women than men attempt suicide, men are four times more likely to die by suicide.
  • A history of trauma or abuse.
  • Prolonged stress.
  • Isolation.
  • Age – people under age 24 or above age 65 are at a higher risk for suicide.
  • A recent tragedy or loss.
  • Agitation and sleep deprivation.

Can thoughts of suicide be prevented?

Mental health professionals are trained to help a person understand their feelings and can improve mental wellness and resiliency. Depending on their training, they may be able to provide additional ways to help including:

  • Psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy, can help a person experiencing thoughts of suicide recognize unhealthy patterns of thinking and behavior, validate troubled feelings and learn coping skills.
  • Medication may also be used if necessary to treat underlying depression and anxiety and can lower a person’s risk of hurting themselves. Depending on the person’s mental health diagnosis, other medications may be used to alleviate symptoms.

How do I find a mental health provider?

Visit our website at colpachealth.org;   under the For Members tab, click on Find a Provider (http://colpachealth.org/for-members/find-a-provider). Click on the yellow button, Search Provider Directory (http://colpachealth.org/for-members/provider-search). From there, you can find mental health and primary care providers. If you need any kind of assistance, please don’t hesitate to call our helpful Customer Service Department at 1-855-722-8206 or TTY/TDD 1-800-735-2900.

One difficult conversation can save a life

While suicide prevention is an important topic to address year-round, Suicide Prevention Awareness Month provides us with an additional opportunity to talk with passion and strength around a difficult topic. The truth is, we can all benefit from honest conversations about mental health conditions and suicide, because just one conversation can save a life.

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