Did you know suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States? Suicide is complicated. Tragic. But most of all, it’s often preventable. A critical starting point is suicide awareness. Knowing the warning signs, methods for prevention and where to go for help or resources. Additionally, it is crucial any suicidal talk or behavior be taken seriously. It’s not just a warning sign the person is thinking about suicide. It’s a cry for help.
Suicide Warning Signs
Suicide rates are on the rise. They’ve increased more than 30% since 1999. In 2017, more than 47,000 American lives were lost. However, many of these lives could have been saved had the warning signs been identified and acted upon.
Most suicidal individuals give signs of their intentions. Suicide prevention begins with recognizing these warning signs and knowing how to respond if you spot them. If you believe someone is suicidal, you can play a role in suicide prevention by pointing out the alternatives, showing you care and getting a doctor or psychologist involved.
Signs of Suicidal Tendencies
The warning signs of suicide should be taken very seriously. They are indicators a person may be in acute danger and may urgently need help.
- Making threats or comments about wanting to die or to kill oneself
- Looking for a way to kill oneself
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
- Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
- Claiming to be a burden to others
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious, agitated, or recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Displaying extreme mood swings
- Exhibiting impulsive or reckless behavior
Is there Imminent Danger of Suicide?
Keep in mind the risk of suicide is greater if the behavior is new, has increased or if it appears to be related to a painful event, loss or change. So, if someone you care for is exhibiting the behaviors below, don’t hesitate. Take immediate preventative action.
- Putting affairs in order and giving away possessions
- Saying goodbye to friends and family
- Mood shifts from despair to calm
- Planning, possibly by looking to buy, steal or borrow the tools needed to complete suicide, such as a firearm or prescription medication
Suicide Risk Factors
The causes of suicide are complex. For example, contributing factors include mental illness, substance abuse, painful losses, exposure to violence, social isolation or any combination of these. However, research has found more than half of people who died by suicide did not have a known mental health condition.
A person may be at risk if he or she has or exhibits:
- A family history of suicide
- Substance abuse: drugs and alcohol can result in mental highs and lows exacerbating suicidal thoughts
- Intoxication: more than one in three people who die from suicide are found to have been under the influence
- A serious or chronic medical illness
- A history of trauma or abuse
- Prolonged stress
- Age: people under 24 or above 65 are at a higher risk for suicide
- A recent tragedy or loss
- Agitation and sleep deprivation
Suicide Prevention Methods
Suicide prevention and treatment are based on the patient’s risk factors. Treatments are prescribed based upon a combination of underlying factors and preventing suicidal thoughts and actions. Suicide prevention efforts aim to:
- Reduce factors increasing the risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors, and
- Increase the factors helping to strengthen, support and protect individuals from suicide.
If a client has a mental health concern, a treatment plan to address the issue will be implemented first. Then, suicide prevention techniques, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), are added. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, commonly known as talk therapy, is a method of psychotherapy helping teach ways of dealing with stress. With CBT, the client learns to redirect suicidal thoughts and implement coping mechanisms. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) helps clients recognize disruptive or unhealthy feelings or actions. This method introduces techniques for dealing with difficult situations.
Prescribing antidepressants can be risky. Research has shown antidepressants to potentially increase the risk of suicide and suicidal thoughts in teens. Although it appears this isn’t as likely in adults.
A final, and somewhat surprising prevention technique is awareness among medical professionals. Research has indicated many people who have completed or attempted suicide actually sought medical attention prior to reaching that state. However, warning signs were missed or not identified. Further suicide awareness and education for medical professionals could literally be the difference between life and death.
Help Prevent Suicide
If you or someone you know is in distress, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free and confidential support. Crisis resources are available for you or your loved ones, as well as best practices for professionals.
Finally, if you believe someone may be thinking about suicide:
- Call 911, if danger for self-harm seems imminent.
- Ask them if they are thinking about killing themselves. This will not put the idea into their head or make it more likely they will attempt suicide!
- Listen without judging and show you care.
- Stay with the person or make sure the person is in a private, secure place with another caring person until you can get further help.
- Remove objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.
Lastly, one of the best ways to help prevent suicide is to talk about it. When talking about it, hashtags such as #SuicidePrevention and #SuicideAwareness further the conversation. Together, we can help save lives.
At Patagonia Health we are raising our voices to fight the stigma against mental illness. Help us by speaking up or sharing this post.
If you liked this blog, you might also like Inside Behavioral Health: 8 Signs of Mental Illness.