Promoting Suicide Awareness


By Chris Spaletto, MAAT, ATR, and Kevin Pittman, RN, BSN 

If you are on the Rush campus this week, you may see us giving purple-and-teal-colored ribbons to passersby. As clinicians at the Rush Day Hospital — the outpatient adult program in the Department of Psychiatry — we and other psychiatry units at Rush are doing our part to promote awareness of National Suicide Prevention Week.

The Rush Day Hospital treats people 18 years and older diagnosed with affective disorders and other conditions that interfere with relationships and daily functioning. We work collaboratively as a team, which includes nursing, social work, art therapy and a psychiatrist who serves as our medical director.

Here are some important facts about suicide:

  • In the United States, 50 percent more people die by suicide each year than from homicide.
  • Experts believe that most suicidal individuals do not want to die. They just want to end the pain.
  • When suicide risk or intent is detected early, lives can be saved.

Assessing suicide risk

One of the important factors in the care given to our patients is assessment of suicide. A thorough assessment is performed upon intake, and assessment of suicide risk continues daily as treatment continues. Part of an assessment includes the identified risks, and what are deemed as protective factors.

Major depression is the psychiatric diagnosis most commonly associated with suicide. If left untreated, depression can lead to comorbid (occurring at the same time) mental disorders, such as alcohol and substance abuse, higher rates of recurrent episodes, and higher rates of suicide. Risk factors include mental illness, substance abuse, previous suicide attempts, hopelessness, access to lethal means, recent loss of loved ones, unemployment and vulnerability to self-harm.

Examples of buffers against suicide and suicidal behavior include protective factors of high self-esteem, social connectedness, problem-solving skills, supportive family and friends, are

Warning signs

For clinicians and non-clinicians alike, it’s important to know some warning signs of suicide. The American Association of Suicidology offers an easy to remember mnemonic,  IS PATH WARM:

  • I Ideation
  • S  Substance Abuse
  • P Purposelessness
  • A Anxiety
  • T Trapped
  • H Hopelessness
  • W Withdrawal
  • A Anger
  • R Recklessness
  • M Mood Changes

How to help

Ways to be helpful to someone at risk or who is threatening suicide:

  • Be aware – learn warning signs, be direct, and talk openly about suicide;
  • Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Seek support.
  • Take action. Remove means. Get help!
  • Contact a mental health professional or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800) 273-8255 or call 911.

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