Talking about suicide can be a scary subject. But the more people are willing to talk with a friend or family member about suicidal thoughts, the more likely they can help someone take positive steps towards healing.
Many people assume that if you ask someone if they have suicidal thoughts, that you can put the idea into their head. This is a myth, and mental health professionals encourage people to ask important questions and gather facts to help someone who is depressed or feels hopeless. When someone is contemplating suicide, their words and actions can give you clues that they are at risk for hurting themselves.
People can become suicidal when they feel overwhelmed by life’s challenges. They lack hope for the future, and they see suicide as the only solution. It’s sort of a tunnel vision where other options seem useless. Having a family history of suicide or impulsive behavior is also believed to increase risk of suicidality.
Other risk factors can include:
- History of substance abuse
- Access to firearms
- Difficult life events
- Isolation from others
- History of mental illness
- History of physical or sexual abuse
- Having a terminal or chronic illness
- Past suicide attempts
The more signs you see, the higher the risk there is for suicide. Though talking about dying is an obvious sign, there are many others that can indicate risk. There are emotional, verbal, and behavior clues you can observe.
Emotional Markers can include:
- Feeling depressed
- Lack of interest in activities once enjoyed
- Shame or humiliation
- Mood swings
Verbal Markers include talking about:
- Killing themselves
- Their life having no purpose
- Feeling like a burden
- Feeling stuck
- Not wanting to exist
There are two types of suicidal statements or thoughts. An active statement might be something like, “I’m going to kill myself.” A passive statement might include, “I wish I could go to sleep and not wake up,” or, “I wouldn’t mind if I got hit by a bus.” People often ignore passive statements, but they should be taken just as seriously.
Behavioral Markers can include:
- Isolating from others
- Not communicating with friends or family
- Giving away possessions or writing a will
- Driving recklessly
- Increased aggression
- Increased drug and alcohol use
- Searching about suicide on the Internet
- Gathering materials (pills or a weapon)
Older adults also at increased risk for suicide, and they complete suicide at a higher rate than any other age group. They also are especially at risk because they do not usually seek counseling for depression and other mental illnesses. If you see an older adult who stops taking care of their hygiene, is eating poorly, and/or starts giving away their possessions, then you should help them talk to a mental health professional as soon as possible.
Warning Signs For Kids
Many people do not assume that children and teens can be at risk for suicide, but they can exhibit warning signs as well. If a child is talking about suicide or wanting to die, always take them seriously. An event or problem that might not seem like a big deal to an adult can be extremely stressful for a child or teenager. Children and teens might be at risk for suicide if they:
- Experience bullying
- Lose someone close to them
- Experience physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
- Abuse drugs or alcohol
- Have a history of mental illness
- Feel uncertain about their sexual orientation
What You Can Do Today?
If you see a loved one or even an acquaintance or colleague exhibiting any of these signs, you are not powerless to help them. Don’t hesitate to use specific language, such as asking, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” If the answer is yes or maybe, ask them what they feel most comfortable doing, whether it’s calling a crisis hotline or scheduling a counseling or doctor’s appointment.
If a person is thinking of suicide, it’s also important to ask them if they have a plan. If they say yes, assist them in seeking immediately help. They can simply walk into an emergency room or urgent care clinic, or they can call 911. At any time they can also call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Suicide is preventable, and people who feel hopeless can go on to live full and healthy lives. While you can’t control another person’s action, you can be a powerful and intervening force in their lives. So what can you do today to help a loved one choose life?