Suicide. It’s not a topic most people want to discuss. It makes us sad and uncomfortable. However, September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and an essential reminder that suicide is preventable. Knowing the risk factors and recognizing the warning signs for suicide can help prevent suicide.
It can be very upsetting when someone says they’re thinking about suicide or says things that sound like they’re considering suicide. You may not be sure what to do to help, whether you should take talk of suicide seriously, or if intervening might make the situation worse. Taking action is always the best choice.
What to Know About Suicide
In 2019, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the US, claiming the lives of over 47,000 people. An estimated 1.3 million adults attempt suicide each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In addition, more than one in five people who died by suicide had expressed their suicide intent. But the heartache isn’t only the lost lives; it’s thousands of families and friends devastated by the loss of their loved ones and struggling to understand.
Suicide is complex. Mental health conditions can be contributing factors, but many other things, including relationship issues, a sudden catastrophic event, substance abuse, or failure, can leave people feeling desperate, unable to see a way out, and become a tipping point toward suicide.
The CDC reports that slightly more than half (54 percent) of people who died by suicide did not have a diagnosed mental health condition.
The Pandemic’s Impact on Suicide
During the pandemic, isolation, fear, anxiety, and despair contributed to a more than 30 percent increase in suspected suicide attempts in hospital emergency departments for adolescents.
Common Misconceptions About Suicide
Sometimes the fear of doing or saying the wrong thing can prevent people from helping. A few misunderstandings include:
- People who talk about suicide aren’t serious and won’t go through with it. People who have taken their own lives have often told someone they didn’t feel like they had a future or that life wasn’t worth living. Some may have even said they want to die. While someone might talk about suicide as a way of getting attention, the attention they seek is usually a call for help. You should always take someone seriously when they speak about having suicidal thoughts. Helping them get the support they need could save their life.
- People who are suicidal want to die. It’s not that people who feel suicidal don’t want to live. On the contrary, they don’t want to live the life they have. It’s a small but critical distinction. That’s why talking through other options at the right time is so vital.
- If a person is serious about killing themselves, then there’s nothing you can do. Thoughts of suicide are often temporary, even if someone feels depressed, anxious, or struggling to cope for an extended period. It’s another reason it’s so important to get the right kind of support at the right time.
- Talking about suicide is a bad idea as it may give someone the idea to try it. Often, people who are feeling suicidal don’t want to worry or burden anyone with how they feel and don’t discuss it. However, asking someone directly about suicide permits them to tell you how they feel. In addition, people who have experienced suicidal ideations will often say what a huge relief it was to share their concerns.
Look for Warning Signs
It’s not always possible to tell if a loved one is considering suicide, but there are some common signs. Of course, having some warning signs doesn’t necessarily mean a person is considering taking their life, but they can be indicators.
- Making statements such as “I’m going to kill myself,” “I wish I were dead,” or “I wish I hadn’t been born.”
- Obtaining the means to take your own life, such as buying a gun or stockpiling pills
- Withdrawing from life. Distancing from social contact with family and friends and wanting to be left alone
- Displaying mood swings or manic behavior, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next
- Being preoccupied with death, dying, or violence
- Expressing feelings of being trapped or in a hopeless situation
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Changing regular routines, including eating or sleeping patterns
- Participating in risky or self-destructive activities, such as using drugs or driving recklessly
- Giving away belongings or getting affairs in order when there is no other logical explanation for doing this
- Saying goodbye to people as if they’ll never see them again
- Developing noticeable personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated, particularly when experiencing some of the warning signs listed above
How You Can Help
You’re not responsible for preventing someone from taking their life—but your intervention may help the person see that other options are available to stay safe and get treatment. There are ways you can help.
The first step is to find out whether the person is in danger of acting on suicidal feelings. Asking about suicidal thoughts won’t push someone into taking their life. However, offering them an opportunity to talk about their feelings may reduce the risk of acting on suicidal feelings.
Be sensitive, but ask direct questions, such as:
- How are you coping with what’s been happening in your life?
- Do you ever feel like just giving up?
- Are you thinking about dying?
- Are you thinking about hurting yourself?
- Are you thinking about suicide?
- Have you ever thought about suicide before or tried to harm yourself?
- Have you thought about how or when you’d do it?
- Do you have access to weapons or things that can be used as weapons to harm yourself?
If a loved one talks or behaves in a way that makes you believe they might attempt suicide, don’t try to handle the situation alone:
- Get help from a trained professional as quickly as possible. Depending on the situation, the person may need to be hospitalized until the behavioral health crisis has passed. There are also resources that help find local therapists near you and financial assistance programs, such as Olivia’s Fund, that help pay for behavioral health services.
- If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call: For local immediate assistance, call 970-306-4673 (Hope Center of the Eagle River Valley) or the Colorado Crisis Center 844-493-8255 to reach a licensed mental health clinician and peers, 24/7. If the situation escalates while on the phone with Colorado Crisis Services, they will contact local dispatch and support you or your loved one by initiating a welfare check. For national support, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately.
If someone says they are thinking of suicide or behaves in a way that makes you think the person may be suicidal, don’t play it down or ignore the situation. Even if it seems as if you’re overreacting, the safety of your loved one is the most critical consideration. Many people who have taken their own lives have expressed the intention at some point. Don’t worry about straining your relationship when someone’s life is at stake.
The stories of courageous people who have found their way back from the brink of despair with the help of therapists and loved ones demonstrate that things can and do get better. Find out more about how you can help prevent suicide.