By Ray Burow
The suicide rate is perhaps the most significant indicator of the mental health crisis in America. Sadly, in the United States, suicide is a leading cause of death.
To the families and friends of the nearly 50,000 people lost, these are more than numbers and statistics. The ripple effects are astounding.
The Impact of Suicide
The impact of suicide is far-reaching. Suicide is a traumatic event. It could trigger deep depression. Prolonged and complicated grief associated with the event could turn into post-traumatic stress syndrome for loved ones who are left to mourn.
Suicide also complicates the grieving process. It leaves mourners in turmoil, asking questions that often have unresolved, unsatisfactory answers.
- Were there signs that my loved one was at risk for suicide?
- Looking back, there were signs. Why didn’t I recognize them?
- Could I have prevented the terrible outcome?
Such questions, though unavoidable and natural, may lead to guilt and even more depression.
Risk Factors Associated with Suicide
Recognizing the risk factors and knowing the signs could save lives. While the causes related to suicide may be different, there are some signs and symptoms that may help identify those at risk. Here are several common risk factors associated with suicide:
- substance abuse
- a history of suicide attempts
- chronic pain
- family violence
- family history of suicide
- stressful life events (financial or legal trouble, losing a loved one, etc.)
- the presence of guns at home
- a history of incarceration
Risk factors can lead to suicidal thoughts. Even “passive” thoughts of suicide should be taken seriously and investigated. Though not everyone with these symptoms attempts suicide, some will.
Signs of Suicide
The signs of an impending suicide aren’t necessarily overt, though family members and friends might have a gut feeling that something isn’t right with their loved one.
Placing affairs in order by making a will is acceptable, but drawing up a will is concerning when coupled with other signs. The person may be planning suicide if they give away precious items and possessions, subtly say goodbye or spend excessive time talking or thinking about death.
Here are a few other potential signs of suicide:
- feelings of hopelessness
- acute and unbearable emotional pain and suffering
- taking dangerous risks
- giving away precious possessions
When someone speaks of how empty they feel, or if they talk about wanting to die — even if it’s not apparent — take the conversation as a warning sign. It’s not far-fetched to believe they may already have a plan. Take action immediately. Avoiding confrontation could prove catastrophic.
There’s no evidence that a direct approach like this increases a person’s risk of suicide. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention encourages dialogue and posted the following in a recent press release.
“We are seeing a wave of change in our society that destigmatizes openly talking about and seeking help to prevent suicide, and this is giving people more confidence to take action to protect their own and others’ mental health and well-being.”
Anyone contemplating suicide is having a mental health crisis. Protect their mental health and their lives by taking a direct approach. Speak openly about their experience, suicidal thoughts and plans. Confront your fears with appropriate questions, then immediately seek professional assistance and a mental health assessment.
Here are two questions to ask when taking a direct approach:
- Do you have plans to harm yourself or others?
- Do you have a suicide plan?
While discussing their pending suicide plans is in order, don’t minimize their emotions. You don’t know their feelings, so don’t imply that you do. Don’t scold them for being ungrateful for what they have. Take their admittance and confession seriously.
Next Steps and Helpful Resources
Once suicidal ideation and plans are confirmed, connecting the person with mental health professionals is imperative. Call 9-8-8, the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. It is free to call for help, and the professionals on the other end are trained in suicide prevention.
They’re available to anyone in a mental health crisis or to the person assisting them. The call and all information gained from the conversation are kept confidential. Help is available 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has an extensive list of resources and telephone numbers where people experiencing a mental health crisis or contemplating suicide will receive immediate assistance. If they refuse to make the call, do it for them.
Don’t leave the person considering suicide alone. If they refuse to take steps, take matters into your own hands and alert a professional. Dial 9-1-1 if the person is in immediate danger of harming themselves or others.
Finally, don’t keep a person’s suicide attempts, thoughts or plans a secret. It’s not a betrayal of confidence to inform the proper authorities. Even if the person in crisis asks you to keep their admittance to yourself, don’t do it. Quickly getting the appropriate support is important.
To preserve privacy, keep their admittance confidential as sharing the situation may induce shame and perpetuate stigma. Share only with the authorities who can provide the correct type of assistance to meet the immediate need and to deliver mental and physical help that ensures health and well-being in the future.