The holidays, Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza or just “the holiday season,” are for most of us a time for family get-togethers, singalongs, gifts and joy. For people living alone, or struggling with depression, the expectation that they should be happy simply adds to their pain. This season is thus for some a time of increased risk of suicide.
Last year the U.S. experienced a new high in “deaths of despair,” including suicides. In 2022, almost 50,000 people lost their lives to suicide. While all age groups are affected, the highest suicide rate was in men 75 and older. Also striking is that over half of these deaths were carried out by guns.
How can we reduce these horrible events?
If you are contemplating suicide, please reach out. No matter how it may seem, you are not alone. In Massachusetts, you can call 833-773-2445. Most states have a chapter of The Samaritans. From anywhere in the U.S., you can call 988. All of these services are anonymous, free and available 24/7.
If you have guns at home, be a responsible gun owner – keep them locked up.
If you are worried about a friend or loved one, reach out. Talking about suicide does NOT “put the idea in their head.” Talking, and more important, listening, is incredibly helpful.
Initiating the conversation is not easy. Make sure they feel safe in being open. Start with something like “You have seemed very down recently. I am worried about you. Would you like to talk?” When it seems appropriate, it is OK to ask “are you considering suicide?”
If they are open to discussing their feelings, be prepared to listen deeply: maintain eye contact, reflect back their words and acknowledge their feelings. Don’t interrupt and/or try to talk them out of their feelings. While you may feel things are not that bad, they do.
Suggest they get professional help or call one of the hot-lines. If they are not ready to do this, tell them you will be available to talk more. Ask them to promise you they will not act on their impulses without more talking.
If they do not want to talk, tell them you will be available when they are. Share your concerns with others in their support network; there may be someone else with whom they feel more comfortable.
Finally, if you feel the risk is very high and they refuse to seek help, reach out to emergency services on their behalf.