September 10, 2020

UW Health seeks to raise awareness during world suicide prevention day

Madison, Wis. — As levels of isolation, distress and anxiety increase because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, unfortunately so do the number of suicides and attempted suicides. Today, UW Health is observing World Suicide Prevention Day by joining partners across the globe in raising awareness about suicide and suicide prevention.

We know that 90 percent of people who die from suicide have either a treatable mental illness or a substance abuse disorder," says Rachel Edwards, nurse manager with UW Health Behavioral Health. "Unfortunately, the pandemic has significantly increased the number of people worldwide who are struggling to cope with the psychological consequences of these uncertain times. That's why it's more important than ever that we educate ourselves and others about suicide prevention and promote the various resources in our country and our communities that can help."

Edwards says that identifying the warning signs that somebody might be considering suicide is the first step in helping that person get the help they need. Some of the behaviors to look out for include people talking about wanting to die, about having great guilt or shame, or of being a burden to others. Other behaviors to look for include making a plan or researching ways to die; withdrawing from friends, saying good bye, giving away important items or making a will; taking dangerous risks such as driving extremely fast; displaying extreme mood swings; eating or sleeping more or less; and using dangerous drugs or alcohol more often.

If you know somebody who has expressed suicidal thoughts or ideation, Edwards suggests taking the following steps:

  • Ask about it: Studies show that asking at-risk individuals if they are suicidal does NOT increase suicides and or suicidal thoughts.

  • Keep them safe: Reducing a suicidal person's access to highly lethal items or places is an important part of suicide prevention. While this is not always easy, asking if the at-risk person has a plan and removing or disabling the lethal means makes a difference.

  • Be there: Listen carefully and learn what the individual is thinking and feeling. Research suggests acknowledging and talking about suicide may in fact reduce rather than increase suicidal thoughts.

  • Help them connect: There are a number of ways for people seek help if they are feeling suicidal.

Suicide Prevention Resources

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

  • Some Dane County Crisis resources include:

    • Journey Mental Health 24/7 Crisis Line: 608-280-2600

    • Solstice House Warmline: 608-244-5077

    • 2-1-1 United Way Dane County or 608-246-HELP (4357)

  • Hopeline Text Line – Text "HOPELINE" to 741741. HOPELINE is the Emotional Support Text Line in the State of Wisconsin and provides service throughout the entire state. HOPELINE's purpose is to offer emotional support and resources before situations rise to crisis level

  • NAMI Dane County at (608) 249-7188.

Every year, suicide is among the top 20 leading causes of death globally for people of all ages. It is responsible for over 800,000 deaths, which equates to one suicide every 40 seconds. For each suicide approximately 135 people suffer intense grief or are otherwise affected. This amounts to 108 million people per year who are profoundly impacted by suicidal behavior. Suicidal behavior includes suicide, but also encompasses suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. For every suicide, 25 people make a suicide attempt and many more have serious thoughts of suicide.

UW Health is part of the Zero Suicide Initiative, which is comprised of local health care systems and community organizations with a role to play in suicide prevention. The initiative, coordinated by the Safe Communities coalition, is modeled after Henry Ford Health Care System's program, which demonstrated an 80% reduction in suicide among health care plan members.