Suicide Warning Signs and Risk Factors
It is not a fun topic to talk about but it is a very important one: suicide. September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and I can’t think of a better time to share some of the warning signs and risk factors of suicide — so you know. Half the battle in prevention is being aware of signs that someone is struggling. It can be easy in our busy lives to overlook warning signs thinking that someone is just stressed. You might not be able to fathom the thought that they could possibly hurt themselves or take their life. But, it happens every day.
Suicide is a leading cause of death, and sadly it is increasing. It is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-34, the fourth leading cause among people ages 34-54, and the fifth leading cause among people ages 45-54. It impacts all ages, genders, and nationalities.
By knowing the warning signs and risk factors you have the ability to potentially help someone before they take their life.
Warning Signs of Suicide
1.) They talk about wanting to die or hurt themselves — We have all probably been guilty at one point or another of saying “ugh I hate life,” or maybe even “I just wish I was dead.” We might even say it without realizing but when someone says it who also appears down, it can be a major sign that they could need help.
2.) They are looking for a way to die — If you catch someone researching ways to die on the internet, talking about death, or purchasing a gun or other self-harming tools this can be a warning sign.
3.) They are talking about having no reason to live or feeling hopeless — When a person genuinely feels like they have no reason to live, they need help changing that perspective and getting the care they need.
4.) They are talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain – They want a way out of what they are feeling.
5.) Increased use of drugs or alcohol — People who commit suicide are generally in a lot of emotional pain. They will do anything they can to numb their emotions. Often this starts with excessive drug or alcohol use.
6.) They talk about being a burden to others — They may say things like “It would be better if I wasn’t here,” or “It’s all my fault,” or “I should just go and die.” It is horrible to think but many people feel like their troubles are so big that things would be easier if they weren’t around anymore. They feel like they are doing a favor for others, which is—as you know—very far from the truth. No one wants to lose a friend or family member to suicide.
7.) They frequently act anxious, agitated, or reckless — If they have no respect for their life or feel like they won’t be around much longer they are more willing to take dangerous risks.
8.) They sleep too much or too little — Depression is a risk factor for suicide. It leaves people feeling hopeless and sad and they just want to stay in bed with no energy, or they can’t sleep because they are always thinking or worrying about things.
9.) Withdrawing or isolating from others — If someone is thinking about suicide they don’t want to get close to anyone. They want to be alone or they feel like they should be alone because they are too much trouble for others. People need people. Isolation is not healthy. If you see someone beginning to withdraw, consider sitting with them or stopping by.
10.) Showing rage or experiencing extreme mood swings — Someone who is angry all the time or has large fits of rage is probably not feeling too great about life. They are mad at the world, others, or themselves. This is a sign that someone should check in with this person.
Risk Factors for Suicide
As mentioned above mental illness, like depression, can be a major risk factor for suicide. Other risk factors can include substance abuse disorders that can alter the levels of feel-good hormones in the body, and major physical illness that leaves a person in pain or feeling like a burden. Personal history can play a large role as well — traumatic events can be hard to get past, leading to suicide. This is often why veterans or victims of violent crimes are at high risk. Family history of suicide can make the thought more available to a person, whereas it might not have been otherwise. Other factors can include loss of relationships that leave people feeling lost and like “life cannot go on,” easy access to lethal means, and lack of social support and isolation.
Often if there was more mental health care readily available or less stigma around asking for help, people would be able to get care rather than turning to suicide. Which brings me to what you should do if you are concerned someone you know may be considering suicide?
If you suspect someone may be at risk for suicide, the first thing you can do is let them know you care about them and you are there for them. Be a caring shoulder to cry on. Encourage them to get out of bed. Talk to them. They may not be willing to talk and they might get angry but deep down inside they will feel better knowing someone is there.
Encourage someone who is struggling to get help from a mental health professional. You can even go as far as making the appointment and driving them to it. Other resources include the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — 1-800-273-TALK . There are always people on the other side of that phone that can help.
There is always an option for care, even for those who don’t feel like they can afford it. Help is available.
Let the people in your life know that they are loved and their life is so very important.
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