Fall and winter are high-risk seasons for suicidal behaviors

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As leaves fall and temperatures plummet, so do the spirits of many across our country. The Walla Walla Valley is no exception. As the lack of sun and the grayness of winter descend, ongoing pressures of work, financial and relationship stressors intensify and worsen any underlying mental health issues.

For some, the upcoming holidays are anticipated as a time of joyful gatherings with family and friends. For others the season is overshadowed by dysfunction, loneliness and unhappy memories.

Despite the best efforts of loved ones and professionals, there are times when the pain of staying becomes greater than the pain of going. But for most here is hope, and there is help.

Over the past five years there have been 43 reported suicides in Walla Walla County, with more than half from self-inflicted guns shot wounds. Walla Walla County’s suicide ratio is 26 percent female, 74 percent male

Nationally, elderly Caucasian males have the highest suicide rates. Since 2008, suicide ages in our county have ranged from 20 to 90, with an average age of 49

Many suicide loss survivors say, “Looking back, I see there were warning signs but I had no clue at the time.” Although contributing “reasons” people take their lives vary, there are indicators that are symptomatic of people contemplating suicide.

Here is a list.

Signs of serious depression:

Unrelenting low mood

Pessimism

Hopelessness, specifically related to health issues, financial reverses, lost relationships

Desperation

Anxiety, psychic pain and inner tension

Withdrawal

Sleep problems

Other indicators include:

Increased alcohol and/or other drug use

Recent impulsiveness and taking unnecessary risks

Unexpected rage or anger

Threatening suicide or expressing a strong wish to die

People who take their own lives often make a plan by giving away prized possessions, or suddenly or impulsively buying a firearm or obtaining other means to kill themselves, such as obtaining poisons or medications.

The emotional crises that usually precede suicide are often recognizable and treatable. Although most depressed people are not suicidal, most suicidal people are depressed. Serious depression can be manifested in obvious sadness, but often it is rather expressed as a loss of pleasure or withdrawal from activities that had been enjoyable.

One can help prevent suicide through early recognition and treatment of depression and other psychiatric illnesses. At least 90 percent of people who kill themselves have a diagnosable and treatable psychiatric illnesses.

A list of psychiatric conditions that pose high risk factors for suicide includes:

Major depression

Bipolar depression

Schizophrenia

Alcohol or drug abuse, particularly when combined with depression

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or some other anxiety disorder

Bulimia or anorexia nervosa eating disorders

Personality disorders, especially borderline or antisocial

Between 20 and 50 percent of people who kill themselves have previously attempted suicide. Those who have made serious suicide attempts are at a much higher risk for actually taking their lives. People with a family history of suicide often take their own lives as well.

Also, a clear relationship has been demonstrated between low concentrations of the serotonin metabolite 5-hydroxyindoleactic acid (5-HIAA) in cerebrospinal fluid and an increased incidence of attempted and completed suicide in psychiatric patients.

So what can you do?

If you observe these patterns in yourself or someone you know, take them seriously. When in doubt, ASK them if they are having thoughts of harm.

Do not leave a person showing suicidal behaviors alone. Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.

When warranted, call 911 or take the person to the nearest emergency room, or medical or mental health professional

Call the local Crisis Line 509-524-2999, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255. More information is available online at www.afsp.org.

If you have lost someone to suicide, recently or in the past, the Walla Walla Surviving Suicide Loss group offers a confidential setting to process grief and recovery with other adults who have experienced similar losses. There is no charge and registration is not required.

Meetings in Walla Walla are held on the second Tuesday each month from 5:15-6:45 p.m. in a room generously provided at the Children’s Home Society, 1612 Penny Lane. For more information call or text Janet Moore 509-386-0456 or John Paulson 509-301-2692

Janet L. Moore is a registered nurse and co-facilitator of Walla Walla Surviving Suicide Loss.

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