Thousands of people lose their lives each year to suicide. In 2018, there were 48,344 deaths from suicide in the United States. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in this country, but it is preventable.
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Suicide Warning Signs
Suicide rarely happens out of the blue. Most people contemplate it for a while before following through. Catching the warning signs may help you save their life.
Some suicide warning signs are:
- intense mood swings
- feeling like a burden
- talking about death or a desire to die
- feelings of emptiness, hopelessness, or being trapped
- a strong sense of guilt or shame
- anxiety or agitation
- feeling that emotional or physical pain is unmanageable
- reckless, risk-taking behavior
- increased use of alcohol or drugs
- changes in appetite or sleep patterns
- withdrawal from friends and family
Though suicide is generally connected with sadness, anger can also be a warning sign. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) notes that aggression and rage may indicate suicidal thoughts. If a person talks about revenge, it might be a red flag.
If someone is planning suicide, you may be able to tell by their behavior. Suicidal behavior includes:
- saying goodbye to loved ones
- making a will or “putting affairs in order”
- giving away valued possessions
- researching ways to kill themselves
- buying a weapon
It’s important to take these warning signs seriously. They should be regarded as a cry for help, but not in a dramatic way. Ignoring the signs when someone is thinking about ending their life may push them to do just that.
Prevention and Being a Good Resource: How To Help Someone Who’s Considering Suicide
While it may seem taboo to talk about suicide, you can’t help someone if you don’t address it. Ask them if they’ve been considering suicide, but do it calmly and be sure to listen to their response with sympathy.
A good way to do this is to mirror their feelings and acknowledge their thoughts. Sharing the burden by talking with them can help reduce their urge to commit suicide.
Don’t argue with the person and try to show how good their life is. Positive thinking may help under normal stressful circumstances, but it can have an adverse effect on someone who’s feeling suicidal.
You can also help by learning if they have a plan and keeping them away from weapons or places that may cause them to follow through with suicide.
Connect Them With As Much Support As Possible
You don’t have to be the only one who’s there for them, either. Connecting them with other loved ones, a mental health professional, or a spiritual advisor gives them that many more people who care about their pain. The better their support system, the lower their suicide risk.
If someone who’s considering suicide has a crisis in their life, they’ll need your support more than ever. Even if they go through mental health treatment, don’t assume they’re fine. Stay connected and let them know you’re still there.
Suicide Risk Factors
Suicide is an abnormal response to stress. There are many personal reasons that someone may choose to end their life, but the decision results from negative thought patterns that lead them to believe there’s no other solution.
A person’s ability to cope with stress or interpret a situation as manageable depends on their mental health. Mental disorders, trauma, family history, and many other things lead to poor mental health, which can increase suicide risk.
Suicide risk factors include:
- depression, addiction, or another mental disorder
- a recent loss or tragedy
- prolonged intense stress
- chronic pain or illness
- family history of mental instability or suicide
- family violence or use
- a prior suicide attempt
- exposure to suicide through others, such as peers, family members, or celebrities
- a recent release from prison
- firearms present in the home
Suicide Risk Factors By Population
More women attempt suicide than men, but nearly four times as many men die from suicide. This may be because men use more lethal methods, such as firearms.
Some medical conditions are linked to depression and increased suicidal tendencies. People under 25 years old may experience suicidal thoughts when they begin taking an antidepressant, but these drugs generally reduce suicide risk over time.
LGBTQ individuals whose family doesn’t support their lifestyle are more likely to commit suicide.
Teenagers who go through stressful situations have a higher suicide risk as well. They haven’t developed adult coping mechanisms and tend to see things as much more serious and life-altering than they are.
It’s important to approach a teen with this in mind, rather than downplaying their distress.
Adolescents might have some of the risk factors listed above, but they may also have unique problems to deal with. Teen pregnancy, sexually-transmitted infections, and bullying can increase a young person’s suicide risk.
Resources and a Lifeline for Suicide Prevention Even During Covid
If you think your loved one is struggling with suicidal thoughts, there are several options.
Psychotherapy is effective in treating many mental health issues. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) involve a person and therapist working together to destroy negative thought patterns.
In behavioral therapy, a person learns to combat suicidal thoughts and replace them with positive ones that lead to healthy behavior. They also gain the tools to handle stress more effectively.
Medication may be combined with therapy, though there isn’t a lot of research on medication to reduce suicide risk. Clozapine, an antipsychotic, is currently the only approved medication for this purpose.
Using medication comes with the risk of substance use, which can lead to addiction and complicate the healing process. A comprehensive treatment plan involving psychotherapy helps reduce this risk.
Another option is collaborative care. A behavioral health care manager works with the individual and a mental health specialist to create a personalized treatment plan. The manager checks in on the individual to ensure they’re doing well and consults the specialist if adjustments are needed.
Regardless of the type of treatment, a support system is crucial for suicide prevention.
Having someone to talk to who truly cares can make a big difference to a person’s mental health. Family, friends, churches, or support groups can offer a listening ear that might help someone decide to live.