Understanding suicide prevention

Business patientSuicide is a “permanent solution to a temporary problem.” That is something a wise psychiatrist told me one time and it rings true. Suicide is currently the eighth leading cause of death in the United States. Men complete suicide four times more often than women. However, women tend to attempt suicide more often than men.

Suicidal thoughts often have a stigma that goes along with them and patients will sometimes feel ashamed to bring them up. The thoughts do not demonstrate any weakness or flaw in character. Rather, they may be a product of an underlying psychiatric illness or the patient may be at a point that the emotional or physical pain may have pushed them to their limit. Patients recovering from suicidal thoughts often mention that they did not wish to die but they saw no other way out from their pain.

If you have suicidal thoughts, before you do anything, STOP and give your mind time to think it over. Take 15 minutes or sleep on it. What do you have to lose? Call a friend or family. Call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255. If you have a plan of how to attempt suicide, call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room. Be honest with your providers. Let them know about your thoughts and if you have a plan.

If someone mentions suicide or suggests they may be suicidal, please take them seriously.  It may be the one cry for help that could so easily be missed. Be supportive and non-judgmental. Remove any dangerous items (i.e. firearms, prescription medications, ropes, knives) from the person and the premises. Understand the physician’s treatment plan, including medications if any were prescribed.

Be on the lookout for behavior that may be a red flag:

  • Contacting people and apologizing for various things
  • Getting affairs in order
  • Giving away items
  • Withdrawing from society

Watch out for these common methods of suicide attempts:

  • Firearms
  • Prescription drugs
  • Illicit drugs and alcohol
  • Cutting/Self-injurious behavior
  • Falling/jumping off bridge/building
  • Hanging
  • Car exhaust
  • Driving into oncoming traffic
  • Walking into traffic
  • Suicide by cop/proxy
  • For children – purposefully doing dangerous things their parents warned them about

Unfortunately, suicide is one of the most difficult behaviors to predict. There are some outward behaviors that are typical but we have to pick up on them. It is also challenging to a degree because we have to wait for the patient to verbally or behaviorally show in some way that he or she needs help. When he or she does, that is the time that we can save a life.  We can make a difference and save not only the patient’s life, but also the lives of all those who would be devastated by the loss of the individual. For those who are currently suffering, there is hope. Please talk to someone about your thoughts today.

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About M. Jason Wells, M.D.

M. Jason Wells, M.D., was born and raised in Louisville. He graduated from Saint Xavier High School. He received his bachelor's in biology from the University of Louisville. He received his medical degree from the University of Louisville School of Medicine. He was accepted into a psychiatry residency at the University of Florida where he spent two years before switching to family medicine at the University of Louisville. He is currently seeing patients at UofL Physicians - Family Medicine at Cardinal Station. Dr. Wells is married to his high school sweetheart, Betsy. They have two children. He enjoys watching football, especially the UofL Cards and the Dallas Cowboys.

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