In a 2011 survey, an astounding 8.7% of Rhode Island high school students reported that they had attempted suicide. Researchers identify many underlying reasons that lead some to want to end their lives: Intense emotional distress, depression, hopelessness, anger, impulsiveness, psychosis. The list goes on. Remorse, and even feeling the need to be perfect, are identified. The issues are complex and multifaceted.
Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among American adults 18-65 and the second leading cause of death among teenagers. It is also the second leading cause of death in the US military - 38 members of the Army killed themselves in July 2012 – that is a record. Our senior population is not immune to this crisis either. During the period of 2005-2009 the suicide rate for the over 55 population in Rhode Island was 10 of 100,000.
How can we, as a community, help prevent someone’s desire to end their own life? To start, we must change the way we think of mental illness. A major factor contributing to the number of people who try to take their own life is stigma. Merriam-Webster defines stigma as “a mark of shame or discredit.” This negative feeling imposed by others that people with a psychiatric illness experience is real. Often driven by fear, people may shun or isolate those who they think are having emotional difficulties. This is the exact opposite of what is needed.
Suicide prevention efforts entail increasing social support networks and securing early psychiatric treatment. According to a preliminary report that looked at the views of those who attempted suicide, stigma had a negative influence. When society stigmatizes those who have a mental illness, then people struggling are less likely to seek professional help or support from their family and friends.
Here are some opportunities to get involved, and to get help.
Rhode Island hosted five walkathons to prevent suicide in September and October. These walks, sponsored by Out of the Darkness Community Walks, are raising money for the benefit of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). AFSP funds educational programs supporting prevention, warning-sign awareness, and education about psychiatric illnesses that can lead to suicide. They also fund research to help understand suicide and how to prevent it. Click here to make a donation to each of the walks and support AFSP’s mission.
The Samaritans of Rhode Island Suicide Prevention Resource Center provides volunteer-run programs to help those at risk of suicide. According to its website The Samaritans of RI engages volunteers to listen to what a person in crisis is feeling and thinking without expressing personal judgment – a practice they call “befriending.” Befriending is a step toward reducing the stigma of suicide and psychiatric illness. Volunteer information and training schedules.
The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) Rhode Island chapter has several affiliates throughout the state. NAMI RI’s mission is a grassroots organization that supports those with mental illness and their family members. The organization also provides education and training to professionals, consumers, family members and others in the community, and advocates on behalf of their constituents.
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline has trained counselors available 24/7 at local crisis centers, ready to speak with anyone experiencing any sort of problems. They want to help callers find a reason to keep living. 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
 State of Rhode Island Department of Health, downloaded 10/22/2012,
 Boergers, J., Spirito, A., and Donaldson, D. 1998. Reasons for Adolescent Suicide Attempts: Associations With Psychological Functioning. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 37;12: 1287–1293
 US Department of Defense, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, http://www.defense.gov/Releases/Release.aspx?ReleaseID=15517, August 16, 2012.
 State of Rhode Island Department of Health, downloaded 10/22/2012, http://www.health.ri.gov/data/suicideandselfharminjury/index.php.
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012 Understanding Suicide Fact Sheet. http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/Suicide_FactSheet_2012-a.pdf.
 Eagles, J. M., Carson, D. P., Begg, A., et al, 2003. Suicide prevention: a study of patients' views. British Journal of Psychiatry, 182, 261–265.