When it comes to helping a friend in need, asking one tough question might be the best way to start, experts say.
Hillary Young, the suicide prevention program coordinator with the Juneau Suicide Prevention Coalition, said the most effective way to help a friend or family member who is showing warning signs of suicidal thoughts is to be straightforward with them. Asking them directly if they are having suicidal thoughts, Young said, is the best way to start to get them help.
“The No. 1 thing is to ask the question,” Young said.
The issue of suicide has been in the news on a national and local level recently. Nationally, the suicides of celebrities Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade have sparked further conversations about raising awareness about how anyone can experience suicidal thoughts regardless of circumstance.
Last week in Juneau, police and family members spoke to an armed man near the end of the road north of Juneau who was in “emotional crisis” and posed a possible threat to himself, Juneau Police Department Lt. Krag Campbell said at the scene. Family members were able to convince the man to put his gun down and head to the hospital.
According to the Alaska Bureau of Vital Statistics, as of 2015 Alaska had one of the highest rates of suicide per capita in the country. In 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, the rate of suicide nationwide was 12.57 per 100,000 people. In 2014, the Alaska Bureau of Vital Statistics, Alaska’s rate of suicides was 22.3 per 100,000 people.
The Juneau Suicide Prevention Coalition, founded in 2008, has worked to raise awareness and help people and medical providers better recognize the warning signs of a person having suicidal thoughts. Friends and family need to keep their eyes and ears open, Young said.
“Suicide prevention is everybody’s business,” Young said. “It’s not like, ‘Oh I’m just going to refer them to the counselor and then they’re going to get better.’ People need to know and recognize the signs.”
If a friend or family member used to spend time with your social group but now does not, Young said, that’s something to pay attention to. If someone expresses that they’re feeling a loss of control or helplessness, that’s another sign. There’s a list of warning signs and risk factors available on www.juneausuicideprevention.org.
That website has a huge amount of resources, from links to training sessions to advice to links to national and local organizations that can help. Young said they’ve also put a great deal of effort into social media, and their Facebook page entitled “Juneau Suicide Prevention Coalition” is regularly updated with links, personal stories and more. They are also on Instagram at www.instagram.com/juneausuicideprevention.
James Gallanos, the lead suicide prevention coordinator for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Division of Behavioral Health, said he believes people and providers in Juneau have become more prepared to help those with suicidal thoughts. He said the Juneau Suicide Prevention Coalition, which is state-funded, has been a large part of that.
Coalition members have gone around to medical providers in town, Gallanos said, to see if providers know the warning signs and know how to help those who are struggling. Medical providers, companies and individuals can sign up for training on the Coalition’s website to learn more about what to look for and how to help.
“It’s really helpful,” Gallanos said, “because normally people are really reluctant to get help when they’re in crisis.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.