3 Steps to Take If You Think Someone May Be Suicidal
Many times we hold people at arm's length because we don't want to get involved or we feel their personal lives are none of our business. Intruding onto another’s private concerns could be considered offensive—it might jeopardize a relationship. For similar reasons we may shy away from reaching out to someone we believe is having suicidal thoughts because we're afraid something we say or do will push the person to act on those thoughts.
However, confronting someone you suspect is struggling with suicidal thoughts, and expressing your concern, will not plant the idea of attempting suicide in that person's mind. Often, those who are suicidal have been sending a silent cry for help with self-destructive, risk-taking behaviors, hoping someone will care enough to notice the pain and hopelessness they are experiencing and talk to them about their situation. Here’s what to do if you sense someone close to you is considering suicide.
Understand Suicide Risk Factors
Several factors predispose a person to consider, attempt, or complete suicide. Knowing these risk factors increases the awareness of those who are concerned about a friend of relative and may help to prevent suicide.
Family history of suicide
History of mental health issues
Drug and alcohol use and abuse
Access to lethal options
Previous suicide attempts
Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
Intense, prolonged physical or emotional pain
History of some sort of trauma or of being abused
Some type of loss: job, relationship, financial
Tendency toward aggression or impulsiveness
Exposure to others (in person or online) who have chosen to die by suicide
Engaging in extreme risk-taking behaviors, such as high-speed driving or walking on a bridge railing
Watch for Warning Signs Someone Is Considering Suicide
Knowing suicidal behaviors and statements equips you to help a suicidal person. Look for these warning signs:
Extreme mood swings
Anxiety, irritability, rage
Talking about feeling trapped
Formulating a suicide plan
Loss of interest in favorite activities
Giving away prized possessions
Mentioning being a burden to others
Contacting people to tell them goodbye
Talking openly about suicide or wanting to die
Making a will or putting business matters in order
Saying their situation is hopeless and there is no reason to live
Withdrawing from social interaction with family and friends
Change in eating and sleeping patterns—increase or decrease
Making statements like "You'll be better off without me"
Take Action to Prevent Suicide
Your expression of care and concern may be all that is necessary to cause someone who is suicidal to reverse the course they are on and choose life rather than death. In educating yourself about suicidal tendencies, behaviors, and thoughts, you learn how to help a suicidal person and serve as a potential lifeline.
However, if you feel the threat of suicide is imminent, don't wait. Call a suicide intervention helpline, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or your local police department for immediate assistance in dealing with the situation. Your awareness and action can prevent suicide.
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- Preventing Suicide. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/features/preventingsuicide/index.html
- Suicide Prevention. National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/suicide-prevention/index.shtml
- We Can All Prevent Suicide. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/how-we-can-all-prevent-suicide/
- Risk Factors and Warning Signs. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. https://afsp.org/about-suicide/risk-factors-and-warning-signs/