The Bayfield County Board recently passed a resolution to declare the week of June 19 Suicide Awareness Week in Bayfield County. Bayfield County has a higher than the state average rate of suicides and has seen another increase in the past few months. In the United States 3,200 die by suicide annually and there are an estimated 16 attempted suicides for each completed suicide. There are 4.5 million people affected by the loss of a loved one to suicide. Research states that 80 percent of people who complete suicide give some warning of their intention and based upon these numbers Bayfield County wants to educate our community about suicide to decrease these unnecessary tragedies.

We all have needs to be loved, to be in control, to avoid shame. Suicidal thoughts can be brought on by an event or series of events best characterized as a loss or threatened loss (e.g., a relationship breakup, a failure, a humiliation). Sometimes, persons in such despair try to cope with their pain by turning to alcohol or drugs to deaden the emotional pain. Compounding the tragedy of loss of life, suicide evokes complicated and uncomfortable reactions in most of us. Too often, we blame the victim and stigmatize the surviving family members and friends. These reactions add to the survivors' burden of hurt, intensify their isolation, and shroud suicide in secrecy.

Suicidal thinking is not a normal response to stress. There are three key risk factors for suicide: problems such as depression and/or alcohol abuse, suicidal thoughts, and a previous suicide attempt. These key factors may occur with the other behaviors commonly associated with suicide. These problems include relationship difficulties, impulsive anger and behavior, legal troubles, social isolation, and work performance difficulties. These common signs are indications that professional assistance may be required. If assistance is provided early, then more serious problems, such as suicide attempts, can be avoided.

Just as there are risk factors for suicide, there are protective factors that can help keep people from reaching a suicidal crisis. These protective factors include: acceptance and support from others, handling problems before they escalate into crises, healthy lifestyles and good coping skills, a belief that it's OK to get help, spiritual support, and strong cultural and religious beliefs against suicide. By reducing risk factors and by strengthening protective factors, we can help prevent the problems that contribute to suicide.

Professional assistance is needed to help people through their personal crisis. However, professional assistance cannot begin unless the people at risk seek help — or are observed and referred for help before they attempt to end their problems by suicide. Family, friends, neighbors may help people by being cued into signs of distress in people. Being open and nonjudgmental if people express their distress or coping difficulties is the first step to helping someone who may be suicidal. 

By reading about suicide, or taking a class to learn how to respond to cues or comments about suicide and referring people to resources such as clergy or mental health professionals we can all take part in increasing awareness and preventing the tragedy of suicide in our communities.

Terri Kramolis RN,C, BSN, MSHA is the director/health officer for Bayfield County Health Department.

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