Depressed man looking off of an over passby Carrie Baatz

 

Signs to Look For

 

More often than not, people will show one or more warning signs if they are suicidal. Paying attention and noticing warning signs is the first step to helping.1

 

These are common warning signs: (You may notice others that are not on this list).

  • Threatening to hurt or kill himself or herself
  • Looking for ways to kill himself or herself; seeking access to pills, weapons, or other means
  • Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide
  • Expressing hopelessness
  • Withdrawing from friends, family or society
  • Feeling rage or anger, seeking revenge
  • Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking
  • Feeling trapped, like there is no way out
  • Increasing alcohol or drug use
  • Experiencing anxiety of agitation, being unable to sleep, or sleeping all the time
  • Undergoing dramatic changes in mood
  • Feeling no reason for living or no sense of purpose in life

 

How do I assess the person’s level of risk?

Ask the person directly, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” 

 Starting a conversation about suicide could feel uncomfortable, but it is vital. You need to know if the person is intending to take their life, or if they are having more vague suicidal thoughts, such as “There is no point in going on.”

Asking the question will not plant any new ideas in the person’s mind. Instead, it will bring the person face to face with their thoughts, and saying the words out loud could help them realize their gravity. If you are concerned about someone, I encourage you to practice asking the question out loud, so that you can feel confident when approaching the person. Sensing your confidence can help reassure them. You can also ask, “Are you having thoughts of suicide?”

If it’s clear to you that your loved one has suicidal intent, ask them if they have a plan. Do they know how and when they would do it? Have they thought through the steps? Do they have access to weapons or pills? A higher level of planning usually means a higher risk.

A person I care about went through several years of chronic pain. After a while, the pain took a toll on her life and her mental health. She developed depression, and at one of her low points, she spoke about taking her pain medicine to end her life. Her family and I felt that she was in danger, and we decided to ask more questions while staying closely connected to her. Thankfully, after some time passed, she started to feel better on her own, and she connected with resources that have helped her manage depression.

Other things to keep in mind: If the person has been using drugs or alcohol, they might be more likely to act on impulse. Find out if they have ever made a suicide attempt in the past. A previous attempt makes a person more likely to try again.

 

You are not alone

At The Independence Center, we welcome people who are experiencing mental health challenges and their caregivers. We offer free Peer Support groups and mentoring. To learn more, call us at 719-471-8181.

If you need a space to relate to people who have loved ones living with mental health conditions, you can check out NAMI’s free classes and support groups. NAMI’s programs serve people living with mental health challenges and their loved ones.

Click here to lean more about Suicide Prevention and Support Resources in El Paso County.

                                                                                                                                                           

 

For more information about suicide and how you can help a person who is suicidal, read:

Suicide in Our Culture – You are not Alone

How to Offer Hope to Someone who is Suicidal

Note:

1 I am a certified Mental Health First Aid Instructor, and in this blog I draw heavily from the Mental Health First Aid course materials. If you want to learn more about how to respond to people with mental health challenges, think about taking a Mental Health First Aid Class. (Classes are available for responding to youth and adults.) To learn more, visit www.mhfaco.org.