This week is National Suicide Prevention week, and September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. For a California psychiatrist, this week serves as a way to draw awareness to this tragic problem. According to statistics from the American Association of Suicidology, suicide ranks third as a cause of death among young Americans (ages 15-24) but it is most common among those aged 54-54. While no one can ever be sure if someone they love is suicidal, there are certainly warning signs. If someone you know is exhibiting these traits, they may be feeling suicidal:
- Talking or writing about death, dying and suicide, especially if they have never done so before
- Withdrawal from family, friends and society
- Dramatic mood swings
- Feelings of hopelessness and the belief that things will never get better
- Increased alcohol or drug use or sudden substance abuse
- Uncontrolled rage or seeking revenge
- Lacking a sense of purpose or claiming that life has no meaning
- Seeking access to guns, knives, pills or anything that could be used for self-harm
- Anxiety and agitation
- Fatigue and loss of energy
- A change in weight, appetite and personal appearance
- Sleeplessness and restlessness at night
- Giving away meaningful items or valuables
- Seemingly getting their affairs in order after a period of depression: deep cleaning their home, closing bank accounts, etc.
- A sudden sense of calm after a period of being very depressed (this can mean they’ve made the decision to commit suicide)
Everyone struggles with periods of depression, and exhibiting one or two of those signs doesn’t necessarily mean your loved one is planning to commit suicide. Pay attention to anything that is out of character for them and pay especially close attention if they say things like “Life isn’t worth living,” “My friends/family/spouse would be better off without me,” or “I feel like there’s no way out.” Most suicidal people do not want death, they want their pain to stop.
When it comes to suicide prevention, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Anyone who exhibits any warning signs needs immediate help from a mental health therapist, and as difficult as it may be, speaking up could be what saves them. If you have any suspicions about the mental state of someone you love, arrange a time where you can be alone and talk to them.
When talking to a potentially suicidal person, be yourself. Be calm and do not pass judgment. Start the conversation with something like “I’ve noticed some differences in you lately and wanted to check in to see how you’re doing” or “I’ve been feeling concerned about you lately.” Be patient and accepting. Give the person time to vent and really listen. Don’t try to solve their problems for them, as you’ll only push them away. Ask them when they started feeling that way, the best way you can support them, and if they’ve considered getting help. More than anything, remind them that they are never alone.