Suicide is never an easy topic to discuss, largely due to stigma, but it’s more important than ever that we have open and honest conversations when we’re concerned about the mental health of a loved one. While there is no single cause for suicide, it is a preventable death. We can help prevent someone dying by suicide through recognizing warning signs and risk factors and taking appropriate action.
According to the CDC, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death overall in the United States in 2017, claiming the lives of 47,000 people. It was the second leading cause among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause among individuals 35 to 54.
If you are worried about a co-worker, friend or family member, don’t ignore that feeling. The fact that something has led you to feel concern means it is worth exploring. Second, know that talking about suicide by name with a person you are concerned might be thinking about suicide is not going to “give them ideas” or “make it OK.” It is highly likely that the person has already had thoughts, and by talking about it, you can help them feel less alone, misunderstood, and isolated. It helps to reduce the stigma, too.
The warning signs for suicide can be broken down in to observing a person’s mood, speech, and behavior. Have you noticed a change in mood, such as them seeming more depressed, irritable, agitated, or despondent? Or perhaps angry or enraged? Do they talk about being a burden to others, significant pain – emotional or physical, feeling they would be “better off dead” or it would be “easier if they weren’t here”? Are they talking about feeling trapped, or having no purpose? Have you noticed changes in how they act? Are they isolating from others, acting recklessly, not engaging in activities they normally would or activities that they enjoy? They might be increasing alcohol or other drug use, and may be giving away prized possessions. Are these changes coming after a painful event or loss? Have they attempted suicide in the past? Has a family member or friend attempted or died by suicide?
If you find yourself answering “yes” to these questions, it is time to take appropriate action. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support.
NSPL recommends the following steps if you are concerned about someone:
1. Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide.
2. Be willing to listen. Allow expressions of feelings. Accept the feelings.
3. Be non-judgmental. Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether feelings are good or bad. Don’t lecture on the value of life.
4. Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.
5. Don’t dare him or her to do it.
6. Don’t act shocked. This will put distance between you.
7. Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Seek support.
8. Offer hope that alternatives are available but do not offer glib reassurance.
9. Take action. Remove means, like weapons or pills.
10. Get help from people or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.
If you are considering suicide, please call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.