September is National Suicide Prevention Month, a time when individuals, survivors, local citizen organizations, mental health advocates, and government agencies across the country increase their collective efforts to reduce suicide. DHS is joining the call to promote awareness and increase proactive measures around suicide by supporting our colleagues who may be at risk.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has increased stress and social isolation for many of us. These stressors, as well as known risk factors such as childhood trauma, substance misuse, or even chronic physical pain, can contribute to someone considering suicide. However, the research is clear – suicide is preventable.
By understanding suicide risk factors, you can learn when to seek help for yourself, your colleagues, your family or your friends.
Warning signs of immediate risk for suicide include:
- Talking about wanting to die or about plans for killing oneself.
- Taking steps to kill oneself, such as seeking access to firearms, pills or other lethal means.
- In conjunction with other warning signs and risk factors, the following may indicate intentions for suicide:
- Discussion of extreme or debilitating health, financial, relationship and/or legal issues.
- Expressing hopelessness, feeling like a burden to others, or having no purpose in life.
Other common warning signs for someone in emotional distress:
- Discussing or writing about death or dying, potentially via social media.
- Misuse of alcohol or prescription drugs.
- Withdrawal from friends, family and other support networks.
- Displaying excessive anger or feelings of rage; seeking revenge.
- Inability to sleep or sleeping excessively.
- Engaging in reckless and risky activities.
- Exhibiting dramatic mood swings.
Stepping Up and Leaning in to Prevent Suicide
Action can save lives. Suicidal thoughts or intentions are potentially dangerous and may require immediate action. If you believe someone you know is at immediate risk of suicide, take the following steps:
- Ask – Ask the person: are you thinking of killing yourself? Although it may feel awkward, research shows that people having thoughts of suicide feel relief when someone asks them in a caring way.
- Care – Show the person you care.
- Listen in a compassionate manner without judging.
- Follow-up after the crisis period to let the person know they are not alone.
- Help the individual stay connected to or find a network of strong, positive relationships.
- Escort – Do not leave the individual alone. If possible, remove or disable any potential method of harm. Help the person connect to a health professional and take the person to the nearest emergency room, call 911, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) and follow their guidance.
Seeking Help and Security Clearances
If you are thinking about seeking help, treatment and mental health counseling does NOT disqualify you from maintaining a security clearance. Personal, career and societal stigma around mental health can influence willingness to get treatment. However, seeking support is a sign of strength and shows a commitment to self-care and overall mental well-being.
DHS offers many resources to help employees and their families address life's concerns and promote overall health and well-being. If you, a co-worker, a family member or friend want to learn more about staying healthy and resilient, please consider the following resources:
- All DHS employees have access to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Each Component has an EAP that is a confidential resource for personal concerns around work stress, self-improvement, marital problems, financial concerns, depression, elder care and more.
- Visit the DHS Employee Resources Website with tips for individuals and families for enhancing mental and physical health, as well as other resources to cope with life challenges.
- Your Federal Employee Health Benefits Program includes coverage for mental health treatment. Contact your provider to learn more about your specific coverage.
- Many Components have peer support programs. For more information, contact your Component peer support program lead or your supervisor.
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration can help you find treatment options with the online treatment locator.
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers a free 24-hour hotline for those in acute distress or suicidal crisis – 800-273-TALK (8255).
- The Columbia Protocol offers suicide risk assessment through a series of simple questions that anyone can ask someone who may need help.
As DHS employees, you uphold a critical mission to safeguard the American people, our homeland, and our values. Working on the frontlines of national security is a source of professional pride and satisfaction, but also includes occupational stressors that can combine with life's daily ups and downs to cause mental and emotional stress. It's crucial that we take time to recognize and act quickly when our co-workers or family members may be in crisis. Suicide prevention is a responsibility for all of us.