Suicide claims the lives of approximately 36,000 Americans every year. On average, one person dies of suicide every 15 minutes, and someone attempts suicide about every 40 seconds in the United States. As prevalent and devastating as suicide is, it can also be preventable. Learning the warning signs of suicide and learning how to respond in this situation can enable you to step in and interrupt this devastating sequence of events.
Many people who attempt suicide suffer from some sort of mental illness, or they struggle with a chemical addiction. Clinical depression is a type of mental illness. The chemical imbalance caused by clinical depression often leads to disruptive thought patterns. The depressed person may not have the capacity to think rationally to see every option available in a situation. Instead of realizing that a happy future is possible, a clinically depressed person may be unable to visualize anything other than misery and unhappiness. If the pain becomes unbearable, a person may conclude that death is the only viable option to escape the pain. Sometimes, a trauma or a significant event can also be a precursor to suicidal thoughts.
Risk factors can make someone more likely to choose suicide. A family history of suicide or exposure to suicidal behavior from other sources can increase the risk of suicide. Someone who has experienced physical or sexual abuse may be more likely to attempt suicide. Mental illness and substance abuse also increase the risk of suicide. Access to firearms could increase the odds of a suicide attempt, too.
Someone who is suicidal may show outward signs of the inward struggle. Some people begin talking about death and their desire to die. A suicidal person may talk about feeling trapped by unbearable pain or may mention hopeless feelings. Withdrawal, changes in sleeping and eating habits, mood swings, anxiety, and increased drug and alcohol use are also common behaviors of suicidal people. Someone may show some, all, or even none of these signs and still be suicidal.
If you notice outward signs that suggest suicidal thoughts in a friend or family member, swift action is important. Asking a direct question about whether someone is considering suicide is the first step to interceding and preventing a tragedy. After starting this conversation, remain engaged and listen to the person’s response. Offer reassurance and concern as you listen, and then discuss a plan with the person that involves getting professional help.
Some interactions can be particularly dangerous if someone is considering suicide. Never allow yourself to become so frustrated that you tell someone to go ahead and commit suicide. Never promise to keep suicidal thoughts and feelings a secret because this can enable someone to act on the suicidal feelings. Avoid phrasing questions about suicidal thoughts in a way that makes it easy for someone to answer “no,” such as, “You’re not suicidal, are you?”
In a crisis situation when someone has reached the point of hopelessness and feels suicide is the only option, it’s imperative to get emergency help. This help may involve getting the person to a medical facility, or it could even involve calling 911 in some situations. Suicide hotlines are also available with volunteers staffing phone lines to take calls from people struggling with suicidal thoughts and feelings.
Cognitive behavioral therapy can be effective for reducing suicide rates. With this type of therapy, a patient shares typical thought patterns with a therapist. The therapist then helps the patient recognize harmful thought patterns and offers suggestions for changing these negative thoughts. Physicians can also treat clinically depressed patients with medication to reduce depression symptoms. The combination of antidepressant medication and cognitive behavioral therapy can be effective for many people.
To find out more on this topic, consult the following resources:
- Facts and Statistics
- When Someone is Suicidal
- 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention: Goals and Objectives for Action
- Suicide Prevention
- Recognize Common Signs
- Guide to Engaging the Media in Suicide Prevention
- General Information About Suicide
- Suicide Warning Signs
- Suicide Prevention
- Warning Signs for Suicide
- Suicide Prevention
- Suicide Prevention: Finding Support to Live
- Be That One
- What to Do if You Think a Person is Having Suicidal Thoughts
- Risk Factors for Suicide
- How to Help a Friend: Suicide Prevention
- Suicide: Prevention Strategies
- Suicide: A Major, Preventable Mental Health Problem
- Roles in Suicide Prevention
- Suicide Prevention Information
- Surviving a Suicidal Crisis
- Suicide Prevention: The Power of 1
- Suicide is Preventable
- New York State Suicide Prevention
- Suicide Prevention Resources for Teens
- National Strategy for Suicide Prevention: Goals and Objectives for Action
- What to Look For
- Methamphetamine and Suicide Prevention Initiative
- Suicide Prevention and Awareness
- Suicide Prevention Basics
- Help is Here
- Preventing Suicide: A Toolkit for High Schools
- Handling Special Occasions