How to spot suicide risks
September is Suicide Prevention Month.
Suicide is often a word that invokes all sorts of emotions, from fear to sadness to anger.
And, even though, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide is the 10th-leading killer of Americans and the third highest cause of death in people 24 years old and under, it can be difficult to talk about. Like mental illness, suicide is one of those topics submerged in social stigma.
In recent years, suicides thought to be prompted by bullying have been in the media spotlight, raising awareness. In 2010 alone, there were 38,364 suicides in the U.S., according to the American Association of Suicidology (AAS). That’s more than 105 suicides per day, or one suicide every 13.7 minutes. The AAS also reported that each year there are nearly 1 million suicide attempts.
Who’s at risk?
People with mental disorders tend to have the highest risk. According to the AAS, 90 percent of people who committed suicide were found to have at least one mental disorder.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) lists the most frequently cited suicide risks as:
- Mental disorders, including:
- Depression or bipolar (manic-depressive) disorder
- Alcohol or drug abuse or dependence
- Borderline or antisocial personality disorder
- Conduct disorder (in youth)
- Psychotic disorders or psychotic symptoms
- Anxiety disorders
- Impulsivity and aggression
- Previous suicide attempts
- Family history of attempted or completed suicide
- Serious medical condition and/or severe pain
According to the AFSP, people with risk factors can become suicidal after some environmental triggers such as:
- A highly stressful life event
- Prolonged stress due to adversity like bullying, harassment, abuse, relationship conflicts, or financial stress
- Exposure to another person’s suicide
- Access to lethal methods during times of risk
These factors don’t normally cause suicide, but they can trigger suicidal thoughts in someone already at risk.
Warning signs for suicide
Most people who commit suicide will most likely show at least one warning sign.
According to the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, some of the warning signs may include:
- Talking or writing about suicide or wishing they were dead
- Talking or writing about a suicide plan
- Withdrawing from family or friends
- Acting irritable or agitated
- Being unable to sleep
- Losing interest in things one used to care about or losing the ability to feel pleasure
- Making comments about feeling hopeless, helpless or worthless
- Saying things like “it would be better if I weren’t around” or “you’d be better off without me”
- Visiting people or saying goodbye
- Having intense panic attacks or anxiety
- Having clinical depression that gets worse
It’s important for anyone showing or experiencing warning signs to get immediate help.
So what can you do to help?
Dr. Jan Remer-Osborn, neuropsychologist at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill., recommends people act immediately if they think there’s a chance someone they know is considering suicide.
“This is a life and death matter,” Dr. Osborn says. “You can save someone’s life by speaking up.”
Dr. Osborn says some things you can do include:
- Take suicide threats or discussions seriously.
- Ask questions. Find out whether they considering suicide. Make sure you let them know you care and are there to help – no matter what it takes.
- Find out whether they are seeing a doctor. If they are, call the doctor to let him or her know what’s going on.
- Encourage them to get professional help.
- Take action. Suicide threats are a crisis that requires immediate attention. Never leave a potentially suicidal person alone, and take action to prevent suicide: Remove any firearms, sharp objects, drugs or anything else that could be used for suicide from the area; if at all possible, take the person to a hospital emergency room or a psychiatric hospital; and call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK (8255)) for assistance.
“Take responsibility to save your co-worker, your friend, your family member,” she says. “You will not regret it.”
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