By Dr. Anthony Policastro

Recently someone handed me a copy of an article I wrote in October 1996 on suicide. She suggested that it was time to update the article. 

In 1996, there were about 31,000 suicides in the United States. In 2020 that number had increased to 45,979. That is over a 30 percent increase. In 2021, 138 Delawareans died by suicide. She clearly had a good idea about the update.

Our role in suicide prevention is recognizing the signs in others. The first set of signs is overall behavior. People who are unhappy with their lives tend to try and separate themselves from those lives.

That might be in the form of using drugs or alcohol to not have to think about things. It might be in the form of having an acute change in sleep habits. It might be in their form of having an acute change in eating habits. They might eat too much. They might eat too little.

In adolescents, it may show up in an acute change in school performance. An adolescent female might get pregnant thinking it will help the situation.

They might begin to withdraw from friends. They might develop disruptive behaviors like temper outbursts.

The behaviors themselves are not the primary issue. It is the change in behaviors from what they used to be that should alert us.

There are some specific things that we should pay attention to in individuals. For example, talking about suicide is a red flag. That is true even if it is done in a joking manner. Suicidal individuals are pre-occupied with death so it often become part of the conversation.

The individuals who suggest that they have a plan as to how they would do it are especially at risk. The risk increases if the plan is a specific one. The risk increases if the plan is especially dangerous like including the use of a gun. The risk increases if the plan is easily doable. The risk increases if the individual sounds serious about it.

Another risk factor is someone who gives away possessions. In general this is not an issue. However, if those possessions are things that the individual prizes, it is serious. If there are comments about not needing them anymore, it is serious. 

Some risk factors are historical. A family history of suicide raises the possibility. Individuals who have tried to commit suicide once are more likely than others to try it again.

Identifying an individual who might be suicidal is important. However, doing so and not getting them help does not solve the issue. 

There is a national hotline number. It is 800-273-8255. However, that is not an easy one to remember. In 2020, the National Suicide Designation Act was signed into law. It created an easy to remember number. Now individuals can call or text 988 to get assistance. 

That number uses the local area code of the number to connect to a local hotline. It can connect to a Spanish hotline if needed. It can connect to a veterans’ hotline if needed.

We all know that 911 is the number to call for emergencies. We all need to learn that 988 is the number to call to help those who are showing signs of being suicidal. 

It clearly is a good time to update information that is 25 years old. Thanks to Betty for saving the article and reminding me to do so.

COVID update- The number of new cases of COVID-19 nationally had been running between 400,000 and 460,000 per week since early December. For the last week, that number remained about the same at 418,000. However, Sussex County appears to be a current hot spot.

Sussex County has moved back into a high risk area for COVID-19. That is driven primarily by the number of inpatients. A few weeks ago the level was low at less than 10 admissions per 100,000 people. Last week it was at 34.7 admissions per 100,000 people. 

The overall number of new cases was under 100 per 100,000 a few weeks ago. It has a climbed to 194.68 new cases per 100,000 since then. Over 200 cases per 100,000 would put that number also in the high risk zone.

The third criterion is percent of inpatients with COVID-19. That number remains in the low risk zone at 8.9 percent. However, it too has risen to that point from less than five percent a few weeks ago. If it rises above 10 percent, it moves into the medium risk zone.

From a practical standpoint, that means that individuals who have not yet had COVID-19 or the Omicron booster might want to wear a mask in indoor situations.