According to the American Foundation for suicide prevention, suicide is currently the third leading cause of death for young adults in the United States. The rate at which individuals are contemplating and performing suicide is increasing at an alarming rate. Suicide is often a last resort when individuals feel that they are no longer able to cope with the stressors and hardships they are dealing with in their life. For many individuals, it may seem like a solution to solving difficult issues that seem to have no future. Suicide holds no bounds and can affect any individual, regardless of age, race, or gender. While suicide can be an uncomfortable topic to discuss, it is important to recognize our part in raising awareness to the symptoms and identifying those who are at a higher risk.
Unfortunately, there is no one cause for suicide. Suicidal thoughts can affect any individual at any time, however there are common red flags that we can raise awareness to help identify those who may need support. Being aware of the risk factors that can lead to a higher risk in suicide attempts allows for individuals to be more proactive in the fight against suicide. Similarly, recognizing the signs of suicidal ideation can assist in preventing individuals in engaging in harmful and life threatening behavior.
Higher Risk: Individuals who suffer from many mental illnesses have an increased chance of developing suicidal ideations. Depression has been recognized as a leading cause of suicide attempts, as well as substance abuse and severe anxiety. A family history of suicide or mental illnesses can also contribute to thoughts of suicide. In addition to mental health issues, environmental stressors are also common in individuals who are contemplating suicide. Issues in relationships, long-term stressors such as bullying or unemployment, unhealthy relationships, and divorce or death are all common causes leading to suicidal ideation. The risk of suicide is also about 4 times higher in males than in females (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016). Individuals who have access to harmful materials such as guns, pills, and ropes can also increase the risk of suicide in individuals.
Speech: Individuals who are contemplating suicide may begin speaking differently. They may discuss thoughts of them being a burden on others or having little motivation to live. Individuals may also mention feeling pained, trapped, or lost. Some individuals can also discuss suicide itself and may express interest in creating a plan. Individuals may express interest in researching ways to die or may verbalize a plan or intent to harm themselves (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 2016).
Actions: In addition to speech, you might notice the suicidal individual’s behaviors start to change. They may engage in more reckless behavior or increased drug use. Individuals might become more isolated and withdrawn from others and may sleep more or less throughout the day, (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 2015). Individuals may also start giving away valuables and prized possessions and may begin saying their goodbyes. This could be portrayed as an individual writing goodbye notes, suddenly visiting or calling people to say goodbye or getting their affairs in order.
Emotions: Many individuals who are suffering with suicidal thoughts may experience changes in their mood that can be noticed by others. Look for signs of loss of interest in activities, irritability and/or rage, increased nervousness and embarrassment. Individuals contemplating suicide may also begin feeling and acting reckless and more anxious (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, 2016). Individuals may also express feelings of hopelessness and persistent and reoccurring thoughts that things will not improve.
What can you do?
If you feel like you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal ideation, there are ways that you can help! Many individuals use a common mnemonic called IS PATH WARM to help remember symptoms of individuals with suicidal ideation.
Going through this checklist can help better determine if someone or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of suicide. The first step in helping is starting the conversation. Many times individuals who are contemplating suicide are not able to express their frustrations and their troubles with others. Expressing concern and providing support can be significant in helping save a life and reducing chances of suicide. Letting the suicidal individual know that you are there for them and would like to help them, expressing empathy and sharing that thoughts of suicide are treatable and common are all possible ways of showing concern in an empathetic and comforting manner (Your Life Counts, 2016).
Once the conversation is opened, and you have expressed your concern, it is important to assess risk of individual performing act. Asking direct questions regarding their decision to commit the act, how they would do it and what steps they have taken to follow through are helpful in determining the weight of the issue. Being aware of past attempts is also significant in identifying the risk of the individual carrying out suicidal ideation. Make sure the suicidal individual does not have access to lethal weapons or weapons to harm self. After reassuring the individual and removing them from harm, while keeping yourself safe, direct the individual to seek help in dealing with suicidal ideation.
If you or anyone you know is in a crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-899-273-TALK (8255).
Author: Dinha Farooqui, LPC - Clarity Clinic
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