The World Health Organization informs us of the fact that nearly 800,000 people die every year from suicide, being the third leading cause of death in teenagers aged 15-19 years old. It is important to remember that aside from the number of people who commit suicide, there are many more people who attempt suicide every year and/or contemplate suicide. The single most important risk factor for suicide is a prior suicide attempt. There is not one single reason why a person decides to commit suicide, which can make it difficult to recognize a person at risk. However, there are warning signs to look out for if you are concerned about someone.
The warning sides of suicide
Most people who are thinking of suicide display warning signs. These include talking about killing or harming themselves, talking about death or dying, or seeking out things that can assist in their suicide. A person may display signs of hopelessness talking about how unbearable things are and that there is no hope in the future. Alternatively, dramatic mood swings, an increase in substance use, personal neglect, or a drastic change in sleeping and eating habits can all be warnings that a person is thinking of committing suicide. Five key warning signs to look out for are:
- Talking about suicide, wanting to die, or killing oneself
- Feeling hopeless, having no purpose, or discussing the feeling of being trapped and in unbearable pain
- Seeking out ways to assist suicide such as medication, guns, knives, or have a fascination with these types of objects
- Self-loathing, self-hatred, isolation, and talking about being a burden to others
- Extreme changes in behavior, including mood swings, changes in sleeping habits, anxious, agitated, or reckless behavior
These are not the only warning signs, and there may be several changes in a person that worry you. The most important thing you can do to support someone who is potentially suicidal is to speak up if you are worried. If a person is showing warning signs of suicide, the sooner you speak up, the better.
How to help a suicidal person
It can be really difficult to talk to a family member or friend about suicide, but it helps to show that you care. Sometimes, even raising the conversation and giving them a chance to talk about their feelings is enough to prevent a suicide attempt. If you are worried about how to help someone who may be considering suicide, then you can follow this guide.
- Seek professional help. There are many professionals available to help a person who is at risk of suicide. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline on 1-800-273-8255. Alternatively, you might seek support from a family doctor, licensed therapist, local emergency room, or different crisis service such as those listed here. Whatever type of support you decide, seek help as soon as you have a concern.
- Be proactive. Respond to warning signs quickly. The biggest people at risk of suicide have a plan of how to commit suicide, the intention to do it, and the means to carry it out. If you feel someone is immediately at risk call 911, take them to the emergency room, or ring a local crisis center. Never ever leave the person alone and remove any dangerous objects such as pills, guns, knives, ropes, etc. If the person is out of immediate danger and you are offering ongoing support, then do not wait for them to reach out to you. Call them regularly, ask if they want to talk or need anything, or drop by to see if you can help.
- Make a safety plan. Help the person at risk to identify their triggers that may lead to suicidal thoughts such as alcohol, visiting a specific place, or an anniversary. Put a plan in place that they can easily follow to seek support. This may be as simple as a list of contact numbers in their wallet or on the fridge so that they can easily reach out for help in a crisis.
- Encourage lifestyle changes. Simple changes to lifestyle such as implementing a healthy diet, daily walk, getting good sleep and having regular social interaction can really help. Exercise is a natural stress reliever, releasing endorphins, and promoting natural well-being.
- Show consistent, positive support. Even if a crisis has passed, you still need to be there for support. Keep in touch with the person you are worried about. Call, text, or drop by regularly. Show that you are available to help them. By showing consistent support, you will help them on their road to recovery.
If you or a loved one is having thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.