Suicide is a tragic cause of death that has been on the rise in the United States since the early 2000s. It often comes as a shock to the loved ones when it occurs, leaving them feeling guilty and helpless. But there are a number of crucial things we can do to prevent suicide and protect the mental health of everyone involved.
By taking the time to understand the risk factors, the causes and the warning signs of suicide, you will be more aware and more prepared to help prevent suicide from occurring.
What are the risk factors of suicide?
There is no one cause of suicide, as each person’s history, mental health status and current situation plays a part in determining whether someone is at risk. However, some situations can heighten one’s risk, including:
- Suicide attempts in the past
- A history of suicide in the family
- A mental health disorder, including depression, anxiety, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder
- A substance use disorder
- A tendency towards violent or aggressive behavior
- Being the victim of bullying, abuse or harassment currently or in the past
- An experience of trauma
- Suffering from chronic pain or a terminal illness
- Limited external support
Keep in mind that an individual exposed to these risk factors is not automatically at risk of suicide — many individuals who suffer from a mental health disorder, for example, can and do find freedom and recovery through a treatment program.
However, these risk factors, when noticed in combination with suicide warning signs, can be a useful tool for knowing when to step in and seek additional, professional help.
What are suicide warning signs?
Individuals who are at risk of suicide are likely to exhibit certain behaviors, but not all behaviors are clear-cut. Knowing both more obvious versus less obvious signs can help you determine when to act preventatively to help your loved one.
The more apparent signs of suicide are likely to include:
- Talking about death or wanting to die; they may share that they feel like a burden to others and everyone would be better off without them
- A withdrawal from friends and family, including not attending social events or reaching out to people they used to enjoy being around
- Noticing a sense of loss or hopelessness, or expressing that they feel there’s no way to solve their current problems
- Wrapping up loose ends, writing a will and saying goodbye to family and friends
- Engaging in dangerous behavior, like reckless driving, increased use of substances (like drugs or alcohol) or promiscuity
Less obvious warning signs include:
- Gaining access to life-threatening items: this includes firearms or medication
- Changes in personality: a formerly agitated person might suddenly appear calm, or a previously kind person might become erratic or angry
- Changes in behavior: this may include mood swings or changes in sleeping patterns, including not wanting to get out of bed or suffering from insomnia and not being able to sleep
- Emotionally distancing themselves: this is a crucial sign to note and is not the same as socially distancing oneself. An individual who emotionally distances is likely to not show any emotion during an emotional time, and may not talk about their personal emotions anymore
By knowing what to look for, you can step in when appropriate and prevent suicide by getting your loved one the help they need.
How can I help prevent suicide?
One of the first steps in preventing suicide is knowing the signs — but the next step is understanding what to do when you notice these signs, or when a loved one comes to you and says they’ve been struggling with suicidal thoughts or the like.
Talk to them privately
If someone comes to you and says they’re thinking about suicide or have had suicidal thoughts, take the time to have a private conversation with them. Do not take what they said for granted. If a loved one entrusts you with this concern, take them seriously and allow them to tell their story, uninterrupted and without giving advice. Try not to panic, but calmly take the steps to get them help.
Stay with them
If your loved one says they’re considering suicide, don’t leave them during this time. Make sure they don’t have access to any lethal means and get them to an emergency room quickly. You can also call the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by simply dialing 988 to get directions and help immediately.
Allow a counselor to help
It can be tempting to engage in a conversation about the value of life, give lots of advice or tell them that everything is okay or going to work out — while their life is obviously invaluable, someone who is considering suicide has little room in their mind to discuss these things. The best thing to do is to not minimize their problems, and — if they’re not in immediate danger — strongly encourage them to speak to their counselor as soon as possible.
If they do appear to be in distress or in danger of causing themself harm, call 911 or help them get to an emergency room immediately.
Get mental health treatment today
The Light Program provides intensive outpatient mental health treatment that can help those suffering from depression, thoughts of suicide and anxiety. If you think The Light Program may be right for you or a loved one, call (610) 644-6464 or fill out a contact form so we can get in touch with you as soon as possible.