September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and as it comes to a close, prevention efforts must continue. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death among Americans. And according to the Suicide Prevention Center, for every suicide death, twelve others have been attempted. The number grows for victims of sexual assault and rape. Feeling powerless and struggling with shame and self-blame, many victims turn to suicide as a way out of emotional burdens.
But suicide is 100% preventable – it just takes effort from a community of family and friends to prevent it. Recognize the warning signs of suicide and intervene. Here are some signs worth a second look…
Lost of Interest – It is rare to lose interest in something you are truly passionate about. If this happens to a friend, then chances are something is wrong.
Avoiding Social Events – Survivors of sexual assault may stop attending social events, even those with their closest friends and loved ones.
Feelings of Hopelessness and Guilt – Many survivors experience depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They may blame themselves for the assault, which can exacerbate negative feelings. These feelings may cause an increase in thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
Talk or Acts of Self-Harm – Do not take these comments or actions lightly. Talking or joking about self-harm, engaging in self-mutilation behaviors, and suicide attempts should all be taken seriously.
Trouble with School or Work – Survivors may find it difficult to maintain focus at school or work, resulting in poor performance.
Insomnia or other Sleep Disturbances – Traumatic events such as sexual assault can negatively affect sleeping patterns. Survivors may experience nightmares, night terrors, and other sleep disruptions.
Weight Loss or Gain – Feeling powerless, some survivors may try to reclaim control of their lives by controlling their diets. Choosing certain food, or avoiding it, may be an effort to take back control. Survivors may also find comfort or emotional relief in food. Stress and other emotional disturbances may affect appetite.
All of these signs are pieces of a larger picture. If your friend or loved one exhibits any of these signs, they may be suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a mental condition caused by a traumatic event. Research suggests that out of six anxiety diagnoses, PTSD alone has the strongest correlation with suicidal thoughts or attempts. Coping with PTSD, or any factors influencing suicide, is not easy. Still, your support can help make the healing process better for friends and loved ones.
Consider these tips in helping sexual assault survivors avoid suicide and self-harm:
Reach Out – Be present and active in the survivor’s life. Your support can help counter suicidal thoughts.
Listen – Give the survivor your full attention. Survivors may find solace in talking through their thoughts, and your support may suppress suicidal ideations and attempts.
Offer Help – Ask, “What can I do to help?” This simple question will let survivors know they are not alone. Coping is a collaborative effort, and expressing so can help uplift your loved one.
Seek Help – If your friend or loved one needs immediate help, call 911. Additionally, the Orange County Rape Crisis Center is always available to support survivors. The Center offers a 24-Hour Help Line, support groups, and therapy referrals in English and Spanish. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for help.
Emotional support makes all the difference to those suffering from suicidal thoughts. Our support can provide some relief. If you notice a change in your friend or loved ones’ lives, then be proactive. Awareness does not end with September. It continues with us.
N’Yaisha Aziz is our Social Media Intern. She works on a variety of outreach projects for education and advocacy.