Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published some heartbreaking stats — more Americans died by suicide in 2022 than in any previously recorded year. With this in mind, I wanted to take the time to share a few insights into the signs of suicidal ideations and ways to help loved ones who are struggling during this National Suicide Prevention Week (September 10-16) and throughout the year.
Suicide affects people of all backgrounds and age groups. It may be unexpected, but people age 85 and older have the highest rates of suicide, because of some of the unique stressors that are experienced by this population — including loneliness, grief over losing loved ones, feeling burdensome to others, new cognitive impairment, and chronic illness and pain.
Youth suicide is the second leading cause of death of people ages 10-14 and 20-34. While this is a difficult subject to talk about, referrals to mental health services can save lives. In the Blue Shield/Harris Poll conducted in June 2023, the majority of youth who reported struggling with mental health are also taking steps to receive help. In fact, 71% have used resources to help address mental health challenges. Our BlueSky initiative is one such resource that provides mental health support for youth to promote emotional well-being.
Know the signs
- Talking about dying
- Change in personality and behavior
- Change in sleep patterns and eating habits
- Withdrawing from friends or social activities
- Losing interest in work or hobbies
- Giving away prized possessions
- Taking unnecessary risks
- Losing interest in personal appearance
- Increased alcohol or drug use
Listen and take action
Once you observe these warning signs, especially if the behavior is new or related to a traumatic event, do not take this lightly. Try to create a safe space and share that you are open to listening.
Here are a few actions to take if you suspect a loved one is having thoughts of suicide:
Be direct. It is okay to ask directly, “Are you thinking about suicide?” If they indicate that they are, stay calm and encourage them to keep talking. They may share more information that can ultimately inform you on what they may need to stay safe.
Make it difficult. Research has shown that restricting access to lethal means (ammunition, medication) — known as “means restriction” — can save lives.
Be there — and talk about it. If possible, be physically present for them. If that isn’t feasible, schedule a video call. Either way, make the time to talk with your loved one if you notice any warning signs. Let them know that you are comfortable talking about any topic, including suicide; and should they ever come to a point where they are questioning their reasons for living, you will be there to listen and support them.
Help them connect. There are some mental health resources that can help.
- 988 is free, anonymous and available in multiple languages. Connect to 988 here.
- For Blue Shield of California members who are looking for a mental health provider, please click on our Find a Doctor page.
- The SAGE National LGBTQ+ Elder Hotline is a general hotline for LGBTQ+ seniors, and they are crisis trained to help in moments of need.
- TEEN hotline for youth mental health.
- For more youth mental health resources, visit our BlueSky website
These are all great resources available to help those who need it. And we’re seeing positive trends toward people using these services. Since 988 launched last year, there has been a 45% percent increase in calls compared to when the hotline number was 10 digits long.