September is Suicide Prevention Month and it’s an important topic. Statistics show that eight out of ten people considering suicide give some sort of sign of their intentions.
Imagine someone that you care about, a friend or family member, is having a rough time (like we all do occasionally), YOU could be the person that makes a difference in their life – even save their life. Let’s look at what may be indicators of suicidal behaviors and what you can do about it.
First, you may be the kind of person that can’t believe why someone would want to take their own life. In fact, you may have heard of a recent death by suicide and thought (or said aloud), “…but they had so much going for them.”
Let me be perfectly clear here: suicide does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter age or ethnicity; how much money is in the person’s bank account or how healthy (or not) someone may be. If a person is contemplating suicide, there is something gravely wrong in that person’s life and they need help.
This may require you to let go of your assumptions of how well a person may appear to be doing and really listen to what the person in question is saying.
Signs to look (and listen) for if someone is contemplating suicide
One of the following, by itself, may or may not be a cause for concern, but multiple signs may be some indicators that your loved one is possibly suffering from depression, and is potentially at risk for suicide. I highly recommend that you be particularly curious if the patterns seem new or increased or appear related to a major life change, such as a deeply personal loss or other painful events. Most importantly: trust your instincts!
What to look for
Many of us get the blues from time to time, but if someone you know suffers from depression and/or prolonged depression, take this into consideration. 30-70% of suicide victims suffer from major depression or some bipolar disorder.
Talk or joke about suicide – listen to their words
Joking around about taking one’s life is sadly common. We see and hear FML (f*uk my life), emojis with a gun or putting fingers in the shape of a gun to the head all too often. If your friend, coworker or loved one comment about hopelessness, helplessness or feeling trapped, in combination with casual threats of suicide, you may be on to something. Have you noticed rage or them talking about seeking revenge? Additionally, have you heard them say any of the following?
• “You’d be better off without me.”
• “I don’t want to be a burden.”
• “Maybe I won’t be around for…”
• “I can’t keep doing this.”
• “If anything happens to me, promise to take care of…”
• “No one cares…” “I don’t care…”
• “I’m just so stressed out.”
• “My life is hopeless…It’s never going to get better”
• “I’m having a hard time.”
• “I want to disappear.”
• “You know I love you, right?”
• “I am so sad that I cry all the time.”
• “I am so numb. I don’t feel anything.”
Personality or behavioral changes
Not all signs of depression are obvious. Sometimes depression can be seen in not only what a person says or doesn’t say, but also in nonverbal changes in their personality and behavior. Here are some common examples:
Someone who is depressed simply wants the pain to go away. The problem with this is that their suffering can make them more susceptible to try and numb the pain by using alcohol and/or drugs.
Maybe the person you care about is participating in riskier or more daring behavior than before. Do you get the sense that they may be tempting fate? Did they suddenly take up sky-diving; start free climbing without an experience; or start to drive recklessly?
Another common change, and a significant red flag, is that the person starts to give away their possessions, particularly ones that may have had some personal value.
Notice if they lack making plans or have generally lost interest in future activities (especially ones that they used to have liked or participated in).
They may be looking for ways of killing themselves by searching the internet or trying to purchase a gun.
Other behavior changes include becoming withdrawn or isolating themselves more than they used to. Also, it may be out of character for them to complain about not getting enough sleep or conversely sleeping too much.
One of the most common behavioral signs of someone who is deeply depressed is that they have a very difficult time even getting out of their bed in the morning…or the afternoon. They may be sleeping or just lying in bed for 12-14 hours a day…or more. They are suffering so much that they literally cannot get out of bed to face another day of pain.
Other risk factors
Risk factors are characteristics that make it more likely that someone will think about, attempt, or die by suicide. These include:
• History of mood, anxiety and some personality disorders
• History of abuse or trauma
• Previous suicide attempt or family history of suicide
• Exposure to others (either in real life or via internet or media) who have recently taken their own lives
• Major physical illness
• Feeling isolated and alone
• Recently moved to a new area and feel lonely because they feel that they don’t belong
• Have recently suffered a loss such as the death of a loved one, a job, or relationship
• Little to no access to healthcare – medical or mental health
• Has strong feelings thoughts, or cultural barriers that might initially inhibit their ability to ask for help
• Significant gain or loss of weight
Two other risk factors that are worth mentioning. Teens are more at risk for suicide. It’s the second leading cause of death for people aged 15-24.
Secondly, the holiday season can be an incredibly stressful and painful time for many people. Sometimes the pain has to do with the stress of shopping or financial concerns. Family conflicts may become more intense, breakups are more common, and some people experience general sadness around this time of the year just because of the overcast skies. We call these “triggers” and they can happen to any of us.
5 Steps to Suicide Prevention
So, you may see some behavior or patterns that just don’t add up and you are concerned about someone you know. What should you/can you do?
Be the one to:
• Keep them safe
• Be there
• Help them stay connected
• Follow up
Let’s briefly touch on each one to explore further.
Talk to the person that you are concerned about. Inquire about how they are doing and don’t be afraid to ask the hard question, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” When asked directly in an unbiased way, it lets them know that you are open to talking about suicide and create an opening to discuss their emotional pain.
Research shows people who are having suicidal thoughts find relief when someone asks about them in a caring way. The findings conclude that acknowledging and talking about suicide may reduce rather than increase suicidal ideation.
Listening is a key. Discover if they have a detailed plan to carry out their suicide. The more specified the plan the higher the risk. Listen to their hopelessness and pain, but also listen for reasons why they want to keep living. As best you can, try to let them know that suicide is a permanent solution to what is often temporary, albeit painful, situations.
Keep them safe
If you have found out the means by which they planned to take their own life, separate them from anything that could hurt them. Studies have indicated that when lethal means are made less available or less deadly, suicide rates by that method decline, and moreover suicide rates overall decline.
There’s an old saying, “Pain shared is pain halved.” The simple act of listening can help relieve at least some of their suffering just by letting them know that you are there for them. It’s important to listen to the person you’re concerned about. There may be times when they may simply need to be held.
Don’t act shocked or be judgmental. They may already be feeling embarrassed or ashamed. Instead, listen with empathy and compassion. Individuals are more likely to feel less overwhelmed, less depressed, and more hopeful by after talking to someone who listens without judgment.
You do not have to be their counselor. It’s enough to be there. Don’t leave them alone, unless you feel that your own safety may be threatened, and do not swear to secrecy.
Help them stay connected
The next step is to help them create a network of resources and individuals for support and safety. This can help them take positive action and reduce feelings of hopelessness.
If your concern for this person is urgent and immediate, right away call a Lifeline Center at 800-273-TALK (8255). It’s free and confidential.
An additional way to go is to contact “911” if you think there may be an imminent threat to their life.
Secondly, find a therapist or counselor for them to be in touch with. Identify others they can reach out to like family, friends, clergy, co-workers, their employee assistance program at work, school counselors, and/or coaches.
After you’ve helped the person experiencing thoughts of suicide identify a network of support and services, follow up. Check in with them to see how they are doing. Call, text, email or meet up for a cup of coffee, or lunch.
One more tip
More often than not, a person who is considering suicide may be very secretive for a variety of reasons. It is possible that they may confide in you that they are thinking about taking their life…and they may ask you to “keep my secret.” You may verbally agree to do so, but the burden of keeping a secret like this can be especially painful and scary. This is just too much for one person to carry.
Instead, I strongly encourage you to contact the people who are closest to them and let them know that you are worried about your friend.
Letting others know who may be in a position to help, is almost always the best thing to do in these circumstances. It is true that your friend may feel betrayed because you shared their secret but, consider this: If you don’t tell others and your friend takes their life, you will be holding the emotional baggage of that for the rest of your life. I’ve seen this happen enough times to make sure I included this for you.
And, of course, even if they feel betrayed, you can rest easier knowing that you did everything possible to try and save their life…no matter how things go.
I hope that this information has been helpful for you and perhaps someone you care about. Feel free to contact me for a free 15-minute consultation, to see if I may of help. Below is information about a valuable resource if you need immediate assistance.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in a suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days of the year, including holidays. This hotline is a network of 163 crisis centers in 49 states.
In addition, you can chat online with a suicide hotline counselor.