One of the most common misconceptions about suicide is that “talking about suicide will give someone the idea to do it”. The opposite is actually true, openly discussing suicide is one of the most helpful things you can do. Discussing one’s struggles can be relieving and help the person to feel less alone. It will allow the person to feel heard and provide a sense of validation in what they are going through. Another common misconception surrounding suicide is that “only crazy people commit suicide”. Though seventy-five percent of people with suicidal ideation are clinically depressed, this population is still rational and in touch with reality. Most suicidal acts are committed not by those characterized as psychotic. Lastly, the idea that “people who talk about suicide never actually do it”. It is imperative to take all suicidal threats and gestures seriously. Those who are suicidal are highly ambivalent and are often torn between life and death. It is always better to be safe than sorry.
Some of the more obvious warning signs of suicide may include self-injurious behaviors, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, feeling a lack of meaning/purpose, feeling like a burden to others, feelings of guilt or shame, an increase in risky behaviors such as substance use or driving way too fast and sleeping too much or too little. Some of the less obvious warning signs of suicide may include, increased feelings of anxiety, withdrawing from social situations, extreme mood swings, impulsivity, giving away personal belongings, and an elevation in mood after a period of depressed mood. Those who are enduring suicidal thoughts might make an effort to hide their symptoms out of fear of judgment or feeling ashamed. Normalizing these thoughts and behaviors can allow for a conversation to get the person the help they need. If you notice these symptoms in someone you know, check in with them immediately.
At Risk Populations
There are certain populations that are more predisposed to complete suicide. Those who suffer from mental illness, adults over the age of 45 (especially White men), those who suffer from chronic pain or terminal illness, those who have endured childhood trauma or abuse, American Indians, Alaskan Natives, and Veterans. Suicide is a major health problem in the United States, it is in the top ten leading causes of death for all ages. Veterans comprise nearly a quarter of suicide deaths per year. The CDC estimates that for every 1 suicide completion, there is 25 suicide attempts. Although women will attempt suicide more often, men are more likely to be successful in suicide attempts. This is because men tend to use more aggressive methods. If you consider yourself or someone you know as a member of one of these groups, ask yourself what you have been doing to take care of yourself and your mental health.
Risk and Protective Factors
Certain aspects of an individual’s life can serve as risk factors for suicide, or something that will increase the likelihood for suicide to occur. The #1 risk factor for suicide is a previous attempt. Other risk factors include minority group membership, a lack of social support, a lack of mental health care, access to lethal means, having lower socioeconomic status, and the cultural belief that suicide is a noble resolution. On the other hand, other aspects of an individual’s life may serve as protective factors to suicide. Protective factors are anything that decreases the likelihood of suicide such as, family and community support, developing skills in problem-solving and conflict resolution, emotional intelligence, emotion regulation, financial stability, and religious beliefs that support self-preservation.
How to help
Check-in with someone you have noticed warning signs from. Be an active part of their support system, it is okay to be direct. Engage in effective active listening skills and remain judgment-free. Get them help, and then take care of yourself. Knowing that someone you care about is having suicidal ideation is extremely difficult to digest. Don’t forget to maintain your own mental health. The most important way to help someone struggling with suicide is to be there for them, this will look different for each person, but a simple act of kindness goes a long way.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (USA) at 1-800-273-8255 OR Text SIGNS to741741 for 24/7, anonymous, free crisis counseling.
By, Victoria Reid MHC Intern