In order to help prevent suicide, first it’s essential to understand the risk factors and signs of suicidal thoughts. This information can also be helpful to anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts.
There are many signs which reflect a person’s current emotional state, that may lead them to commit suicide. These feelings and actions include hopelessness, dramatic mood changes, withdraw from friends, family and society in general, anxiety, agitation, lack of sleep or increased sleep, increased alcohol or drug use, rage, uncontrolled anger, history of depression, history of family suicide, access to firearms, feelings of being trapped, reckless, impulsive or risky behaviors, revenge and overall feelings of not having a purpose in life.
Wanting to commit suicide can be a result of an underlying mental illness, or can be a result of a recent death of someone else, a divorce, loss of a job, money problems in general, legal issues and/or being diagnosed with a serious illness.
It is essential that you seek help if having any of these symptoms, or that you refer a person to help if you know someone experiencing these symptoms. Obviously, if someone is threatening or talking about killing themselves, are giving away possessions, writing about death, writing a will, or seeking available ways to self-destruct, these are all cries for help, no matter how subtle.
If you are someone trying to help, it is important to address the situation in the correct manner. This can help you give help to the person, but at minimum will at least allow the person to feel close to you, vs. feeling distant or trying to push you away. First, acknowledge the risk factors mentioned above, and become available to this person by showing interest and support, even if this means saying, “I understand why you want to harm yourself.” If you can get the person to listen to you, acknowledge that you see the harmful behaviors they are taking part in, and you’re here to listen to them and let them express why they feel the way they do.
If you’re trying to help someone in need, you must throw all judgment out the window; this will only force the person to withdraw further, especially from any or all individuals showing this judgment, even if they have good intentions. Suicide is often not a choice, but an inevitable conclusion for a person experiencing suicidal thoughts. They need to know that what they’re going through isn’t just “in their head.” They need to know that suicide isn’t an evil or wrong deed…it just is.
Furthermore, preaching about the importance of life to someone hanging on by a thread in life is not going to get you very far; if you truly want to get through to this person, the only way to reach them is to acknowledge that you know why suicide is an option; by acknowledging this, you’ll be acknowledging their true pain as well. One also shouldn’t ask a person “why” they want to commit suicide, as often this leads to the helping person saying, “they aren’t reasons to do it,” again, an attitude that will make the suicidal person withdraw.
If someone tells you they want to commit suicide or hurt themselves, of course do not encourage them to do it, but also do not act shocked or dismiss the person as a lost cause. Try seeking ways to get through to the person, and if needed, involve other people that may be able to reach them if you can’t (but do NOT try an unexpected intervention…this will only make the person more distant.) Do not reassure them that life gets better, or to “think about the people you’ll leave behind,” because for them, the only reassurance is the fact that death will bring loss of pain, and they feel more of a burden to those around them then someone who will be missed.. Offer alternatives or advice that can truly help the person, such as inviting them out to do something they previously used to or still do enjoy, or removing sources of negativity from their lives the best way possible.
Remember, pain is temporary for some, but for others it is inescapable. This feeling of hopelessness devours itself until a cycle forms where the person cannot think clearly and can’t make wise decisions for themselves. If a person is only in pain temporarily, the thought of suicide will leave their minds when the issue or problem does…they are more in control then someone who wakes up everyday with the decision of whether or not they want to live.
However, suicide can be prevented, if people learn to seek alternatives vs. seeing life as a black hole with no options. According to the American Association of Suicidology, approximately 32,000 Americans commit suicide annually, while the number of attempts is far greater. In addition, suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, while being the eighth leading cause of death for people of all ages.
At the very least, you can refer someone in pain to a Suicide Hotline or Suicide Organization which allows people in pain to voice their thoughts discreetly and anonymously, if needed. You may also refer them to a community mental health organization or agency, if they do not have insurance, or if they do, encourage them to see their doctor or a therapist. If the person is spiritual, perhaps referring them to a religious or spiritual figure could help as well. Often depression leads to suicide, so perhaps there is a mental health issue underlying this person’s actions towards self-destruction. Suicide isn’t genetic, but mental illness is.