Suicide kills more Americans than traffic accidents — an average of 110 every day. It’s the second leading cause of death in 10- to 24-year-olds, and the numbers have been rising in recent years.
These are terrifying statistics for parents, who can feel helpless watching their children struggle through times of stress and trauma.
The good news is that one of the most effective ways to help prevent suicide is also very simple and virtually anyone can learn it.
The “Columbia Protocol,” also known as the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS), was developed by Kelly Posner Gerstenhaber, Ph.D., a Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University and the Founder and Director of the Columbia Lighthouse Project, and uses a series of plain-language questions to provide a suicide risk assessment along with appropriate actions to take.
As explained on the Columbia Lighthouse Project website, the answers to the questions help “identify whether someone is at risk for suicide, assess the severity and immediacy of that risk, and gauge the level of support that the person needs.” Step-by-step, the questions address:
- Whether and when they have thought about suicide (ideation)
- What actions they have taken — and when — to prepare for suicide
- Whether and when they attempted suicide or began a suicide attempt that was either interrupted by another person or stopped of their own volition
The well-meaning assumption that asking about suicide “puts the idea in their head” is incorrect. If someone is at risk for suicide, the idea is already in their head. Asking these questions with kindness lets them know someone cares and has noticed their struggle. Dr. Posner has collected research from around the world showing the effectiveness of this method, even when conducted by laypeople without medical or other specialized training.
The most important thing you can do is ask.
If you need immediate help: Dial 211 (available in Broward County and most of Florida) or (954) 740-MSD1 (6731). If you don’t want to talk, you can text “FL” to 741741. Nationwide, you can call the Suicide Prevention Hotline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at (800) 273-TALK (8255). All of these services are free and confidential. You are not alone.