UF expert for Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month Dr. Andres Pumariega
What you need to know about preventing suicide
With a 30 percent increase since 1999, “suicide in the United States is becoming an epidemic," says Dr. Andres Pumariega, chief of the division of child and adolescent psychiatry in the UF College of Medicine and a member of UF’s Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute.
More than 45,000 people take their lives each year, with the increase especially pronounced in adolescents. For National Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month, Dr. Pumariega shared what you need to know to help prevent suicide.
1. Minimizing the situation doesn’t work.
If you know someone who’s thinking or talking about suicide, it’s important to discuss it openly with them and with loved ones. “Bringing it out with the person helps diffuse the risk,” Pumariega said.
2. You can help people who are at risk.
Pumariega helped modify the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale — an evidence-based tool first used in research — into a brief screener for use in clinical settings, and now it’s available for use by the general public. The C-SSRS helps assess someone’s suicide risk with simple questions that judge the urgency of the situation. Whether you’re a coach, teacher, parent or friend, there’s a customized version of the questionnaire at http://cssrs.columbia.edu/the-columbia-scale-c-ssrs/cssrs-for-communities-and-healthcare/, available in English or Spanish. Using this tool, “people can make a decision about when they need to take action,” Pumariega said.
3. Taking on the stigma is the first step.
“So many people adversely judge themselves about the idea that they might have a mental disorder, particularly depression, which is what most likely leads to suicide,” Pumariega said. If we can overcome the reluctance to talk about depression and suicide, he said, “we can save lives.”
4. Recognize mental illness as a treatable medical problem.
Pumariega emphasizes that clinical depression, clinical anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, which are associated with suicide risk, are all medical disorders that also have evidence-based treatments.
“These are not character flaws. These are not social problems. We have too many people who continue to view it in this manner,” he said.
5. Watch out for signs.
In addition to giving away valuables and expressing feelings of hopelessness, people at risk for suicide may also suddenly make amends for perceived past wrongs. Talking about suicide indirectly or directly is another red flag, as is isolation from other people. Someone who is down to very few trusted confidantes (often as a result of depression) and loses one — in a breakup, for example — can be particularly vulnerable. “That can be the trigger,” Pumariega said. “When they lose that person, then they feel alone and very much at risk.”
6. Know what to do.
If someone is actively thinking or talking about hurting themselves, get them to the emergency room, call a crisis service or even law enforcement, Pumariega says. “Many friends and relatives may feel like that’s a relationship breaker and may be loath to do that, but they may save a life.” The person they save will appreciate that they cared enough to act, he says. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255, can provide guidance on the best option for the situation.
For more information from Dr. Pumariega, read his article in The Conversation here.
Additional experts who can assist journalists with suicide awareness and prevention stories can be found on the UF Experts Guide.
For resources additional resources, visit https://counseling.ufl.edu/resources/suicide/. For the UF Counseling and Wellness Center’s Suicide Prevention & Education program, visit https://counseling.ufl.edu/outreach/suicide-education/.