The Risk And Prevention Of Suicide
If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately.
According to the CDC, each year more than 41,000 individuals die by suicide, leaving behind thousands of friends and family members to navigate the tragedy of their loss. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among adults in the U.S. and the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-24; these rates are increasing.
Suicidal thoughts or behaviors are both damaging and dangerous and are therefore considered a psychiatric emergency. Someone experiencing these thoughts should seek immediate assistance from a health or mental health care provider. Having suicidal thoughts does not mean someone is weak or flawed.
Know The Warning Signs
• Threats or comments about killing themselves, also known as suicidal ideation, can begin with seemingly harmless thoughts like “I wish I wasn’t here” but can become more overt and dangerous
• Increased alcohol and drug use
• Aggressive behavior
• Social withdrawal from friends, family and the community
• Dramatic mood swings
• Talking, writing or thinking about death
• Impulsive or reckless behavior
Is There Imminent Danger?
Any person exhibiting these behaviors should get care immediately:
• Putting their affairs in order and giving away their possessions
• Saying goodbye to friends and family
• Mood shifts from despair to calm
• Planning, possibly by looking around to buy, steal or borrow the tools they need to commit suicide, such as a firearm or prescription medication
If you are unsure, a licensed mental health professional can help assess risk.
Risk Factors For Suicide
Research has found that about 90% of individuals who die by suicide experience mental illness. A number of other things may put a person at risk of suicide, including:
• A family history of suicide.
• Substance abuse. Drugs and alcohol can result in mental highs and lows that exacerbate suicidal thoughts.
• Intoxication. More than one in three people who die from suicide are found to be currently under the influence.
• Access to firearms.
• A serious or chronic medical illness.
• Gender. Although more women than men attempt suicide, men are four times more likely to die by suicide.
• A history of trauma or abuse.
• Prolonged stress.
• Age. People under age 24 or above age 65 are at a higher risk for suicide.
• A recent tragedy or loss.
• Agitation and sleep deprivation.
Can Thoughts Of Suicide Be Prevented?
Mental health professionals are trained to help a person understand their feelings and can improve mental wellness and resiliency. Depending on their training they can provide effective ways to help.
Psychotherapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy, can help a person with thoughts of suicide recognize unhealthy patterns of thinking and behavior, validate troubling feelings, and learn coping skills.
Medication can be used if necessary to treat underlying depression and anxiety and can lower a person’s risk of hurting themselves. Depending on the person’s mental health diagnosis, other medications can be used to alleviate symptoms.
It can be frightening and intimidating when a loved one reveals or shows signs of suicidal thoughts. However, not taking thoughts of suicide seriously can have a devastating outcome. If you think your friend or family member will hurt herself or someone else, call 911 immediately. There are a few ways to approach this situation.
• Remove means such as guns, knives or stockpiled pills
• Calmly ask simple and direct questions, such as “Can I help you call your psychiatrist?” rather than, “Would you rather I call your psychiatrist, your therapist or your case manager?”
• Talk openly and honestly about suicide. Don’t be afraid to ask questions such as “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” or “Do you have a plan for how you would kill yourself?”
• If there are multiple people, have one person speak at a time
• Ask what you can do to help
• Don’t argue, threaten or raise your voice
• Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong
• If your loved one asks for something, provide it, as long as the request is safe and reasonable
• If you are nervous, try not to fidget or pace
• If your loved one is having hallucinations or delusions, be gentle and sympathetic, but do not get in an argument about whether the delusions or hallucinations are real
If you are concerned about suicide and don’t know what to do, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). They have trained counselors available 24/7 to speak with either you or your loved one.
Even if your loved one isn’t in a moment of crisis, you need to provide support. Let her know that she can talk with you about what she is going through. Make sure that you are actively and openly listening to the things she says. Instead of arguing with any negative statements that she makes, try providing positive reinforcement. Active listening techniques such as reflecting feelings and summarizing thoughts can help your loved one feel heard and validated. Furthermore, reassuring your loved one that you are concerned for her well-being will encourage her to lean on you for support.
One of the best things you can do if you know or suspect that your loved one is contemplating suicide is educate yourself. Learning about suicide, what the warning signs are, and how it can be prevented can help you understand what you need to do as a member of their support system.
If Possible, Be Prepared
If your friend or family member has had suicidal thoughts in the past, it’s a good idea to have a crisis plan just in case. This means that you’ll need to work together to develop the best course of action if a crisis situation should occur.