How to Know When Someone Is at Risk for Suicide

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by Melissa Howard melissa@stopsuicide.info

We all experience difficult times in life, but sometimes those tough times can leave people feeling hopeless. But how do you know when someone is at risk for suicide?  There are several warning signs to watch out for, and resources are available for help.  

Numbers are up

According to Pacific Standard, some studies indicate the suicide rate is on the rise in America, and the numbers are alarming.  The national suicide rate rose 33 percent from 1999 to 2017, totalling 47,000 lives lost.  It’s the highest suicide rate for the last half century, and is now the second-leading cause of death for Americans age 35 or younger. 

Anyone can be at risk

There are many misconceptions around suicide, particularly when it comes to demographics.  One common belief is that suicide primarily affects the white population, but suicide doesn’t discriminate. Unfortunately, many people might write off certain behaviors which could indicate risk, simply due to a person’s ethnicity.  While it’s true the percentages show a larger portion of white Americans taking their lives, it’s crucial to understand there is representation from all segments of the population, and a failure to recognize the signs someone needs help could become a critical error. 

What are the causes of suicide and how can we prevent ourselves or loved ones from becoming part of these heartbreaking statistics? Let’s examine the risk factors and the warning signs for a closer look.

Suicide Risk Factors

As Psychology Today explains, suicide risk factors and warning signs are not one in the same.  Risk factors indicate someone might be more likely to take their own life than those without the same concerns.  Warning signs, on the other hand, indicate someone might currently be contemplating suicide, and it’s crucial to get help. 

It’s important to remember that suicide doesn’t typically have one central cause. Certain contributing factors like untreated depression or substance abuse can lead to higher risk of suicide. Here’s a look at some others:

  • Family history of suicide
  • Illness
  • Increase in local suicides
  • Family history of child abuse
  • Access to lethal weapons
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • History of mental health issues, particularly clinical depression
  • History of alcohol and substance abuse
  • Aggressive or impulsive tendencies
  • Feeling isolated
  • Barriers to accessing help
  • Personal loss (relationships, occupational, or financial)

Suicide Warning Signs

If you find yourself or your loved one talking about feeling overwhelmed, unable to manage chronic pain, having no reason to live, feeling like a burden or a source of discontent, or feelings of hopelessness, those are indications it’s time to seek help. 

But language isn’t the only warning sign to watch. You should seek help if you or a loved one are exhibiting any of the following behaviors:

  • Withdrawal from family, friends or activities
  • Significant mood changes, such as anger, sadness or irritability
  • Increased use of substances such as alcohol, drugs or inhalants
  • Feeling trapped, or like there is no way out of a personal problem
  • Feeling hopeless about the future
  • Feeling your life can’t get better
  • Talking about being a burden to someone
  • Feelings of humiliation
  • Sleeping too much
  • Giving away personal belongings

For some, suicidal ideation seems like the only solution to their personal discomfort. It’s important to help those with these feelings understand that they are not alone, and to help them recognize alternative solutions to resolve their problems. Identifying the sources of pain behind their suicidal thoughts opens the door for finding solutions.

If your loved one is hesitant to seek help because of cost concerns, sit down with them to explain their value as a human being exceeds the cost of treatment. You can also help review their healthcare coverage to see what sorts of mental health benefits are provided. If your loved one is a senior, they are covered for mental health through Medicare, which offers screenings, counseling, certain medications and psychiatric evaluations.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).  The call is toll-free and help is available any time, day or night.  

If someone you love shows signs of suicidal ideation, don’t hesitate to reach out.  Become familiar with the risk factors and warning signs, and get help if behavior warrants concern.  With proper assistance, no matter the circumstances, life for your loved one can can feel worth living again.

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