What are the warning signs of suicide?

Behavioral Health Topic: SUICIDE

Suicide – a word that, at times, is forbidden and foreboding. A word that, because of fear or shame, many people are uncomfortable talking about or admitting that they think about in a passing manner. Yet an action that is attempted and completed quite often in our society. Suicide is one of the Top 1f0 overall causes of deaths in the US. It is the second leading cause of death in people between the ages of 10 and 34 years and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 34 and 54. Suicide rates are even higher for people over the age of 54 years.

Behavioral Health Topic: SUICIDEContrary to myth, talking about suicide does not increase the likelihood that someone will commit suicide. Talking to someone about their struggles and identifying thoughts of self-harm, may actually help the person decide against self-harm and help them connect to resources for assistance.

So, let’s talk about it.

Never take any threat of suicide lightly.

Suicide is a permanent action to life’s temporary problem. At times, you might feel helpless, hopeless, or overwhelmed. Suicidal ideas may briefly come to your mind. These thoughts can be vague and without intention. You might have mixed feelings about these ideas. Suicidal thoughts are common. Most people do not talk about these thoughts, so we really do not know how common they are. Thoughts pass. Feelings pass. But these may be signs to change some things in your life – not end your life.

Warning signs of suicide may be similar to signs of depression. Sometimes, a person who is not depressed will attempt suicide. Additionally, someone who is depressed, will often not have thoughts of suicide. However, both individuals can benefit from professional treatment and the compassionate support of those around them. Suicide attempts can happen in people with mental health issues like anxiety disorder, drug abuse, bipolar disorder, and post traumatic syndrome disorder (PTSD). People with chronic pain or with terminal physical illnesses may also have thoughts of suicide. These are some warning signs to watch for:

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Making a plan to kill oneself
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Exhibiting extreme mood swings
  • Withdrawing from others and things that have been important
  • Increasing the use of drugs or alcohol
  • Feeling hopeless, trapped, or having no purpose
  • Giving away items of importance

If you struggle with suicidal thoughts, create a “Safety Plan.”

  • Put together a small emergency “go” bag with meaningful items that you can access quickly to help you feel more connected with positive and important things in life.  Examples of things to put in your “go” bag are: a change of clothes, pictures of loved ones, your favorite book, a puzzle, writing tablet and pen.
  • Who will I call? Seek professional help, contact a trusted clergy member, or contact a trusted family member or friend.
    • Make a list with names and phone numbers of two or three people who will support you through this crisis. Include the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or TEXT 838255
  • What will I do? Make a list of safe places to go and safe things to do. Download to your mobile device the Virtual Hope Box app, created by the Defense Health Agency for a collection of resources to use. Remove (or have a loved one take) items that you might use to attempt suicide (firearms, pills, etc.). Do activities that will help you to relax and refocus your thoughts.  Here are a few self-soothing activities:
    • Focus on your breath – take a few minutes to pull all of your attention and focus on your breathing. Take slow, deep “belly” breaths in through your nose and out of your mouth.
    • Take a refreshing or relaxing shower or bath
    • Sing or hum a song that inspires or calms you
    • Cook a meal that smells and tastes good – it could be your favorite comfort food
    • Speak positive words aloud. Be kind to yourself by saying good things to you about you and hear yourself say them.
  • Where will I go? Seek safe shelter – an emergency department, or a family member’s or friend’s home, a special place in the park that puts you around others, or a support group meeting. Go where you will have the care and support of others.

Each person who attempts suicide, has family, friends, or co-workers who are left to cope with the tragic event. Their struggle to understand and recover from the excessive grief is difficult and even traumatic. In many cultures and religious faiths, suicide is a stigma – a mark of disgrace. These survivors may feel shame or guilt and be reluctant to talk about their loved one’s battle. They may also feel angry, abandoned, or rejected. They may wonder and ask themselves “What did I do to cause this?” or “What could I have done to stop it?

As the survivor, you may not have caused the loved one’s battle. You may not have had the power to stop it. However, there are things you can do for your emotional health.

  • Talk to a trusted friend, openly and honestly
  • Seek professional counseling
  • Practice self-soothing activities
  • Consult your physician if you feel you are becoming depressed
  • Always encourage anyone with suicidal ideas, even if such thoughts are vague, to seek professional help

Resources:

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP)
Suicide Rising Across the US. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Suicide Facts. Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE)
– National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255 or TEXT 838255
– National Strategy for Suicide Prevention (2012).
Action Alliance.
Self-Soothing Strategies: 8 Ways to Calm Anxiety and Stress. (2018).
– Veterans Crisis Line (veteranscrisisline.net) Dial 800-273-8255 and press 1.
– Virtual Hope Box app (Defense Health Agency)
What is Depression? (2017). American Psychiatric Association (APA)

If you have any more questions just Ask Hanna, our health advisors are here to help.
Dr. Joe Banken PhD – Health Tip Content Editor

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