Content Warning: This post discusses suicide and self-harm.
Often, people who feel suicidal have underlying mental health conditions that can be diagnosed and managed, if they can get the proper help that they need. According to the CDC, in 2019, suicide was the tenth leading cause of death among all ages in the United States. Furthermore, among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, suicide was the second leading cause of death. This being said, it’s critical that family and friends recognize the warning signs to help loved ones who may be suffering from depression or contemplating suicide.
When a person attempts suicide, it does not always mean that they want to die. It’s often an indication that they are in immense emotional pain but don’t know how to handle it, and it’s a cry for help. When a person is suicidal, it’s common that they may exhibit unusual changes in behavior. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), there is a suicide sequence that can be interrupted, and those interruptions can be lifesaving. There is typically a thinking-planning phase associated with suicide, followed by an action phase. Sometimes the thinking phase may be recurring and intense, and other times, it may be fleeting.
Know the warning signs:
- Engaging in self-harming behaviors — non-suicidal self-harm can often be a precursor to a suicide attempt.
- Extreme mood swings.
- Feelings of hopelessness or having no reason to live.
- Giving away possessions.
- Losing interest in activities.
- Talking about death and/or suicide.
- Talking about feeling trapped or in emotional pain.
- Saying goodbye to family and friends.
- Saying that they are a burden, feelings of self-loathing, or self-hatred.
- Acting anxious or agitated and behaving recklessly.
- Self-destructive behavior.
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs.
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
- Sleeping too little or too much.
- Seeking out lethal means (guns, pills, knives, or any other object that could be used in a suicide attempt).
- Withdrawing from family and friends.
- A sudden sense of calm and happiness after being extremely depressed (this can mean that they have made a decision to attempt suicide).
There are also life events that could be considered risk factors for suicide. These are important to be aware of, especially if a friend or family member is going through a difficult time. Sudden stressors or catastrophic events can leave people feeling desperate and unable to see a way out, resulting in suicidal thoughts. By knowing these risk factors and checking in with loved ones more frequently, we can help them get the help they need.
Risk factors for suicide:
- Previous suicide attempt(s).
- History of suicide in the family.
- Substance misuse and abuse.
- Mood disorders (depression, bipolar disorder) or other mental health conditions.
- Access to lethal means (for example, firearms in the home).
- Experiencing loss or other upsetting events (death of a friend or family member, experiencing a breakup or divorce, academic or business failures, legal or financial difficulties, bullying, etc.).
- History of trauma or abuse.
- Chronic physical illness, including chronic pain.
- Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others.
Suicide prevention tips:
- Speak up if you are worried about a friend or family member.
- Reach out in a caring, respectful way.
- Gently challenge negative thoughts that often accompany or precede suicidal thoughts.
- Encourage the person to seek help or take some other positive action.
- Don’t minimize their feelings. Even though you may not think that their problems warrant suicidal thoughts or behaviors, what is really important is how serious they perceive them to be.
- Listen, be sympathetic, and non-judgmental.
- Take the person seriously and offer hope and help, encourage positive lifestyle changes.
- Remove potential means of suicide.
- Offer continued support (checking in on them).
- Be proactive — reach out to their family, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and/or a medical professional.
The be “NICE” strategy
The Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan promotes a strategy using the acronym be “NICE.” This strategy raises suicide prevention awareness and encourages people to help others seek the treatment they need. The “N” is for noticing the people in your environment. The “I” is for inviting a person into a conversation that creates a safe space to talk about what’s troubling them. “C” stands for challenging them to think of themselves as worthy of treatment. Lastly, “E” stands for encouraging them to feel empowered to get help.
Negative thoughts do not have to lead to painful actions — suicide is preventable. By working together, we can make a difference and save lives. If you, or a loved one, are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
At Feinberg Consulting, our team of highly trained professionals is here to help you or a loved one find the proper treatment plan and support. It’s important to remember that you are not alone and you do not have to manage your mental health alone. Call us today to learn more at 877.538.5425.