September is National Suicide Prevention Month
The Rappahannock Area Community Services Board offers a message of hope that we can save lives in our community.
Be a Lock and Talk family. Save lives.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States for all ages, and the second leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
High-profile suicides like those of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade put this topic front and center in the media. Statistics from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention tell us that for every suicide, there are 25 attempts.
That makes it critical that families and communities have the tools to talk about mental health, the knowledge to spot the warning signs of suicide and the confidence to take actions—like securing lethal means and speaking up for those at risk—that can save lives.
The Lock and Talk Virginia program was created to do just that.
Lock and Talk aims to prevent suicides by:
- Removing access to firearms and poisons during a mental health crisis, and
- Educating members of the public about how to recognize and respond to the warning signs of suicide.
Learn how you can play a role in saving lives by adopting the Lock and Talk strategy.
The “lock” part of the program goes directly after the leading lethal means used in death by suicide year after year: firearms (used in five out of 10 suicides in the U.S., and nearly 60 percent of suicides in Virginia) and drugs and poisons.
Michelle Wagaman, Prevention Services Coordinator for the Rappahannock Area Community Services Board, said Lock and Talk Virginia is building a network of families, community organizations, pawn shops, gun retailers, law enforcement agencies and other groups that can become a safety net to try to prevent suicides in Virginia. A big part of that strategy is removing lethal means from those at risk.
“If we can put distance between an individual in crisis and the lethal means, we can prevent suicide,” Wagaman said.
To help households and businesses achieve this, RACSB’s Prevention Services provides safety devices, including gun cable locks, gun trigger locks, medication lock boxes and medication deactivation kits.
Healthy communities must have an open conversation about suicide, the risk factors, how to spot them and act on them.
RACSB fosters this with its Mental Health First Aid training program.
Just as traditional first aid training teaches people how to save lives through physical means like tourniquets and CPR, Mental Health First Aid equips people with the tools and knowledge to help during a mental health crisis.
Through both youth and adult curriculums, the class teaches about common risk factors and warning signs of mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, substance use disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
“We want this to become as common as CPR training,” said Wagaman. So far, 1,500 people in the community have been trained. In addition to interested community members, the training is given to all graduates of the Rappahannock Regional Criminal Justice Academy, and has also been offered in several schools divisions, and to resident advisors at the University of Mary Washington.
“Lock your guns. Lock your meds. Talk safety. Talk often.” –Lock and Talk Virginia, lockandtalkvirginia.org
YOU CAN PLAY A ROLE
Families don’t need special training to use the principles of Lock and Talk to help build a community safety net that can prevent suicides in the Fredericksburg region.
Visit websites like lockandtalkvirginia.org to learn how to lock lethal means in your home.
Promote awareness and open discussion about mental health in your house with the following:
- From toddlerhood, talk openly about feelings. Encourage children to put names to their feelings, whether they are pitching a fit, laughing with joy, or weeping.
- Acknowledge your own feelings and talk about them with your kids.
- As kids get into middle and high school, encourage open conversation about the behaviors they see among their friends and in media they consume.
- Know the warning signs of a mental health crisis, and teach them to your kids. Encourage them to intervene or tell an adult if they see a peer in trouble.
- Pay special attention to young people who have recently gone through a difficult life transition or the breakup of a romantic relationship. Sadness is normal, but sadness that lasts more than two weeks and is paired with a loss of interest in activities and friendships the individual previously enjoyed is a sign they may need help.
Suicide Prevention: A message of hope
Suicide does not discriminate. People of all genders, ages and ethnicities can be at risk.
Knowing the facts can help us all play a role in creating a healthier community.
- In Virginia, data collected since 2003 show that an average of 916 people die by suicide each year. For every homicide, an average of 2.4 deaths by suicide occur.
- In the Fredericksburg region, 58 people died by suicide in 2016, the most recent year for which data are available.
- Warning signs include:
o Talking about wanting do die or kill oneself; preoccupation with death
o Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
o Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
o Sleeping too little or too much; feeling isolated or withdrawn
o Making arrangements and getting personal affairs in order
o Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
o Giving away prized possessions
o Suddenly appearing happier or calmer
o Displaying extreme mood swings
o Loss of interest in the things a person previously cared about
- Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health have found that many suicide attempts occur with little planning during a short-term crisis, and 90 percent of attempters who survive do NOT go on to die by suicide. This shows how important it is to restrict access to lethal means for those at risk.
Common misconceptions about suicide
Myth: “People who talk about suicide won’t really do it.
Truth: Do not ignore any suicide threats. Almost everyone who attempts or completes suicide has shown warning signs through words or behaviors.
Myth: “If a person is determined to kill him/herself, nothing is going to stop him/her.”
Truth: Most suicidal people do not want to die; they want to stop the pain. The impulse to end their life does not last forever.
Myth: “Talking about suicide will put the idea in a person’s head.”
Truth: You do not give the person ideas about suicide by talking about it. For those at risk, the idea is already there. Providing the opportunity to discuss feelings openly and safely is one of the most helpful things you can do.