Suicide: How to Help

Written by Kristin Tallackson, M.A., LPC Intern (Texas), LPC (Ohio)

Suicide took 47,173 lives in 2017 (CDC, 2018). It took away our wives, husbands, children, friends, and beloved family members. It took doctors, teachers, and famed celebrities. Suicide does not discriminate and is no respecter of person. It is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and has seen a steady increase since the year 2000.

Many are surprised when they hear of a suicide. Here are risk factors and warning signs to be aware of:

Risk Factors are variables that are associated with an increased probability that an outcome will occur. Here are risk factors associated with suicide according to The Interpersonal Theory of Suicide (2011):

-       Previous suicide attempts

-       Chronic physical illness

-       Social isolation

-       Unemployment

-       Mental illness such as depression, bipolar, anorexia, personality disorders, and schizophrenia

Comprehensive research conducted by The Cleveland Clinic (2017) suggests those struggling with suicidal thoughts may display some of the following warning signs:

-       Excessive sadness or moodiness: Long-lasting sadness and mood swings can be symptoms of depression, a major risk factor for suicide.

-       Sudden calmness: Suddenly becoming calm after a period of depression or moodiness can be a sign that the person has made a decision to end his or her life.

-       Withdrawal: Choosing to be alone and avoiding friends or social activities also are possible symptoms of depression. This includes the loss of interest or pleasure in activities the person previously enjoyed.

-       Changes in personality and/or appearance: A person who is considering suicide might exhibit a change in attitude or behavior, such as speaking or moving with unusual speed or slowness. In addition, the person might suddenly become less concerned about his or her personal appearance.

-       Dangerous or self-harmful behavior: Potentially dangerous behavior, such as reckless driving, engaging in unsafe sex, and increased use of drugs and/or alcohol might indicate that the person no longer values his or her life.

-       Recent trauma or life crisis: A major life crisis might trigger a suicide attempt. Crises include the death of a loved one or pet, divorce or break-up of a relationship, diagnosis of a major illness, loss of a job, or serious financial problems.

-       Making preparations: Often, a person considering suicide will begin to put his or her personal business in order. This might include visiting friends and family members, giving away personal possessions, making a will, and cleaning up his or her room or home. Some people will write a note before committing suicide.

-       Threatening suicide: Not everyone who is considering suicide will say so, and not everyone who threatens suicide will follow through with it. However, every threat of suicide should be taken seriously.

 If you know someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts, here is what you can do.

-       Do not leave the person alone

-       Remove any lethal weapons from the house; including sharp objects

-       Contact 911

-       Take them to the nearest emergency room

You or a loved one can contact the 24/7 National Suicide Hotline number at 1-800-273-8255.