Source: Michigan Medicine Headlines
National Suicide Prevention Week is designed to raise awareness about suicide and its impact, as well as highlight the importance of suicide prevention and risk mitigation as a collective responsibility to support the safety and well being of our communities.
It serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of fostering a compassionate and supportive society.
From Sept. 10 -16, numerous organizations, health professionals and communities come together to shed light on signs, symptoms and strategies to prevent suicide.
Suicide warning signs
Recognizing the warning signs and risk factors of suicide is crucial for early identification of risk and timely intervention. Being attentive to changes in a person's demeanor and maintaining open lines of communication can help in identifying these distress signals.
Individuals who are struggling with suicidal thoughts can exhibit warning signs or ‘red flags’ such as:
- feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- mood swings or worsening irritability
- sudden shifts in behavior
- withdrawing from social activities
- giving away possessions
- making statements that indicate a desire to die or expressing a sense of being a burden to others
- increased substance use
Supporting a loved one who is struggling with suicidal thoughts demands sensitivity, empathy and proactive engagement.
You can support individuals expressing suicidal thoughts or behaviors by:
- Listening without judgment, while expressing concern and offering a safe space for them to share their feelings can make a significant difference.
- Encouraging individuals to seek professional help from therapists, counselors, or mental health professionals or dedicated hotlines, such as the national 988 crisis line.
- In some cases, accompanying loved ones to appointments or assisting in finding appropriate resources can alleviate feelings of isolation or loneliness.
- Staying connected and involved in the journey to recovery, even when a loved one may seem distant or struggles to engage in care, sends a powerful message that they are not alone.
There are several resources available for suicide prevention. It's important to reach out to these resources if you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide or mental health challenges.
- 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: Confidential support and guidance for individuals in crisis.
- Guide for Parents: How to Talk to Children and Teens About Suicide
- Depression Toolkit: Support for Suicide Loss Survivors
- U-M Resources for Youth Suicide Risk
- The Trevor Project: Crisis intervention & suicide prevention support for LGBTQ+ young people
- Washtenaw County Health Department Resource List
Suicide prevention research at U-M
Researchers at Michigan Medicine are advancing suicide prevention through their dedicated research and initiatives.
Their collaborative efforts encompass a wide range of studies and programs aimed at understanding the complexities of suicide risk factors, prevention strategies and mental health interventions. Examples include:
Developing and testing suicide prevention approaches for those who struggle with substance use
Mark Ilgen, Ph.D., has worked with colleagues at Michigan Medicine and in the Department of Veterans Affairs to test the effects of a form of structured psychotherapy, called Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Suicide Prevention, on suicide risk among individuals who are experiencing difficulties related to substance use. This work has evolved over time from conducting clinical trials of this intervention to working to expand access to this form of treatment in real world settings.
Increasing comfort with help-seeking during high-risk periods
988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline services have the potential to save lives but are often underutilized by individuals when they are experiencing an acute suicidal crisis. llgen and colleagues developed a novel brief intervention, called Crisis Line Facilitation, to help increase comfort and willingness to use crisis services.
An initial trial of this one-session intervention found that it decreased the likelihood of future suicidal behaviors following an episode of inpatient psychiatric care. The team is currently in the process of testing the potential benefits of this intervention in different high-risk groups, including individuals receiving alcohol treatment and Michigan National Guard Service members.
The Youth and Young Adult Depression and Suicide Prevention Research Program, is conducting research to develop improved screening, risk assessment, and prevention/intervention strategies. Their work includes several research projects such as:
- Youth-Nominated Support Team Intervention YST: YST is a psychoeducational, social support program developed by Dr. Cheryl King and her team across multiple grant initiatives. It is a 3-month program for youth at risk for suicide following their discharge from a healthcare facility. This program pairs adolescents with supportive adults who provide them with education, resources, and support to facilitate the youth’s positive behavioral choices, treatment adherence, and healthy outcomes. YST has been associated with improved treatment follow-through and reduced self-injury mortality. Multiple initiatives are underway to further develop YST and understand its potential benefits.
- 24-Hour Warning Signs for Adolescent Suicide Attempts: The project, developed by Cheryl King, Ph.D., and her team, is designed to identify the warning signs that are associated with near-term risk for suicide. The researchers also hope to determine why a patient attempted suicide on a given day versus a day without a suicide attempt in order tol identify differences between suicide attempters and non-attempters in events, behaviors, emotions and cognitions during the 24-hour case window.
- Transforming Youth Suicide Prevention in Michigan-3 SAMHSA grant Program: In collaboration with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, researchers and clinicians from the Michigan Medicine Department of Psychiatry, Psychiatric Emergency Services, and the University of Michigan School of Social Work have partnered to enhance the availability of suicide prevention best practices in communities across the state. Led by Cynthia Ewell Foster, Ph.D., these efforts include enhanced training in suicide prevention skills for Michigan’s Child Welfare workforce and Michigan’s Youth Suicide Prevention Emergency Department Network, a statewide community of practice aimed at improving the quality of care for youth and families experiencing acute suicide risk. Learn more
- WeCARE: A System of Care for Black Youth at Risk for Suicide: King, together with Michael Lindsey at the NYU McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research and Pamela Morris-Perez of NYU Steinhardt’s ARCADIA for Suicide Prevention, have been awarded a NIMH-funded R01 research grant to study the effectiveness of a system of care for Black youth with suicide risk who present for emergency services.
Although suicide prevention is a year-round responsibility, National Suicide Prevention Week gives us the opportunity to create greater awareness, understanding and education of evidence-based strategies and approaches to identify suicide risk early, prevent progression to suicide and intervene with compassion to save lives and support those impacted by suicidal thoughts and behaviors.