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At Mars Veterinary Health, caring for our Associates is a top priority.

September marks National Suicide Prevention Month in the U.S., and World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10.

Suicide is a topic that has a profound impact on our community, and while we must talk more about it to raise awareness, it is also an incredibly sensitive topic.

We appreciate that this amazingly rewarding profession is also filled with challenges, for our veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and hospital support staff; and these challenges have been exacerbated through the global pandemic.

See below for information and best practices to help you talk about suicide.

General Knowledge

Suicide is a multidimensional condition that creates a general feeling of discomfort, illness, or uneasiness whose exact cause is difficult to identify.

Suicidal thoughts and behaviors occur when a set of variables converge over time and create a situation that overloads the person’s coping skills, resources, and support systems.

This leads to the mental perspective that suicide is the solution. It is a complex condition that often, but not always, intersects with a diagnoseable mental illness; therefore, mental illness and suicide are not directly linked. 

Researchers have found that certain types of publicity around suicide can increase the risk of other suicides. This is call suicide contagion. A phenomenon of indirect exposure to suicide or suicidal behaviors that can influence others to attempt suicide.

The below best practices will help reduce the risk of suicide contagion.

Best Practices

  1. Always include a 24/7 crisis support phone number for participants in mental health and wellbeing events and communications.

  2. Avoid using the term “committed” when discussing suicide. The word committed is frequently used to describe the acts of a crime and or a sin. Instead use “died as a result of suicide” or “died by suicide. Think about how you would talk about death from a disease or an accident and leverage the same wording to describe death from suicide.

  3. When talking about suicide attempts use the verbiage “survivor of a suicide attempt”, rather than an “unsuccessful suicide attempt”.

  4. Avoid using the term “self-harm” in lieu of suicide. The two are not interchangeable and the primary difference is the intent of the behavior. Often when people engage in behaviors that cause self-harm, it is not with the intention to cause fatal harm.

  5. Emphasize that suicidal thoughts and behaviors can be reduced with proper mental health support and treatment and are not permanent conditions or the result of a weakness or character flaw. Always use a tone of hope and empathy.

  6. Do not minimize the realities or the prevalence of suicide in our world, country, or profession. Do not sensationalize or exaggerate it either. Using verbiage like, “growing problem”, “epidemic”, “skyrocketing” creates contagion.

  7. Exclude details or glamorizing the method used when discussing suicide, this too can create contagion.

  8. Talk about suicide as a public health issue, not a crime or crisis.

  9. Bloggers, citizen journalists and public commentators can help reduce risk of contagion with posts or links to treatment services, warning signs and suicide hotlines.

  10. Include stories of hope and recovery, information on how to overcome suicidal thinking and increase coping skills.