As mentioned in part one of this series, “Suicide: A rising epidemic” (published in the 2019 summer issue of Vermont Catholic magazine), suicide is on the rise in Vermont and in the nation — across all ages, faiths and socioeconomic groups. It is the second leading cause of death in young people and often a response to what is perceived as unbearable pain or isolation. Suicide results in devastation for those left behind. As a faith community, what can we do?

  1. Talk about suicide. Talking about suicide does not encourage suicide but rather acknowledges that it is considered an only option to many who are hurting. Talking about suicide also helps those who are suffering know that we see their struggles.
  2. Know that suicide is not the only option. There are many successful treatment modalities for those suffering from grief, depression, trauma and rejection.
  3. Recognize the power of yourself reaching out to the lonely and hurting person in the pews and neighborhoods. We have the ability to reduce suicide, especially teen suicide.
  4. Realize that contemplating suicide is not a moral or spiritual shortcoming. People who commit suicide are often suffering deep emotional pain and may also have distorted thought processes.
  5. Recognize the risk factors and warning signs of suicide.

Risk factors:

  • Depression or other mental illness
  • Previous suicide attempt
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Physical illness or chronic pain
  • Family history of suicide or violence
  • Bullying
  • Family issues
  • Crisis
  • Putting affairs in order
  • Poor problem solving
  • Impulsivity

Warning signs:

  • Hopelessness
  • Preoccupation with death, verbalizing
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Self destructive behavior
  • Sudden sense of calm and happiness
  • Neglecting appearance/hygiene
  • Obtaining means of killing oneself, such as medication, firearms

What you can do:

  • Acknowledge their pain and encourage them to share.
  • Let them know you care and that they are not alone.
  • Ask: Are you feeling suicidal? Do you have a suicide plan? Do you have what you need to carry out your plan (e.x., gun, medication)? Do you know when you would do it? Do you intend to commit suicide?
  • Do not let them alone if you consider them in imminent danger of self-harm; call 911 or take them to an emergency room.
  • Follow up.
  • Encourage them to seek help.
  • Take them seriously.
  • Do not keep it a secret; talk to significant others.
  • Remove potential means of suicide: knives, gun, medications, etc.
  • Make a safety plan.


Vermont Suicide Prevention Center

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (24 hours):1-800-273-TALK (8255);

— Sharon Trani is a nurse practitioner and marriage and family therapist who works for Vermont Catholic Charities Inc. For more information, call 802-658-6111.

This is the second column in a four-part series about suicide: (1) the rising epidemic; (2) prevention; (3) response; (4) reduction.

—Originally published in the Fall 2019 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.