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URMC / BHP / BHP Blog / September 2016 / We Need to Talk About Suicide

We Need to Talk About Suicide

More people die by suicide than in car accidents each year.  That stunning statistic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention demands our individual and collective attention.  In 2010, there were 38,364 American deaths reported as suicides.  Of great concern is the 24% rise in suicide rates over the last 16 years.  The increase in deaths by suicide has cut across most demographic groups, with an unprecedented rise in suicide rates in the middle-aged baby boomer generation.

Why are more Americans taking their lives?  Experts are looking at a range of possible factors including economic hardship, fractured families, social isolation, and the increased availability of opioid drugs that can be lethal in large doses.  It's known that depression is associated with suicidal thoughts, but other mental health conditions including anxiety, addiction, and impulse control disorders, are even more strongly linked to suicide attempts.

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.  Raising awareness about suicide and associated mental health conditions is crucial.  Educators, clinicians, and researchers at the University of Rochester are engaging in important conversations about how to identify and reach out to patients, staff, and students who are suffering emotionally, perhaps in silence.  Yet stigma still exists - about suicide, depression, addiction, and all forms of emotional suffering - and it can prevent us from seeking help or reaching out to others.  

What can we do, as individuals, if we are concerned that a colleague or a loved one may be in emotional distress and at risk for harming themselves?  As hard as it can be, we need to trust our sense that something could be wrong; we need to ask.

  • In most cases, the first step is to talk directly with the person about your concerns: "You seem to be having a hard time lately. I'm concerned about you.  Could we talk about what's going on?"
  • Next, listen, without passing judgment and without telling the person how he or she should feel.  Ask about thoughts of suicide or self-harm: "I understand that things have been very rough. Have you been having thoughts of hurting yourself in some way?"
  • If the person talks about thoughts of self-harm or plans to take his or her own life, seek professional help immediately.  If you're not sure where to turn, we have some resources listed below.

It's not always possible to talk directly with the person that we're worried about.  Perhaps the person is your supervisor, student, only an acquaintance, or you just don't feel comfortable having that conversation.  That's OK.  Just don't ignore the situation.  If you are worried about a colleague, you can talk with your supervisor, department head or HR Business Partner about your concerns.  If it's a family member, share your concerns with a trusted adult, their primary care provider, or a mental health professional.  


National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK
Lifeline at (585) 275-5151

At the University of Rochester:

Looking for additional information? Please visit these websites:

Steven P Brown | 9/20/2016

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