How to Save a Life – Signs Someone May Be Considering Suicide & How You Can Help

By Alexis Crase, Development Specialist

September is National Suicide Awareness Month – a time to talk openly about the rising suicide rate, what actions we can take to promote hope and healing for those affected by suicide, and what we can do to aid in suicide prevention.

Although certain groups of people are more likely to attempt suicide, including people with an untreated mental illness or people who have attempted suicide in the past, suicide does not discriminate based on age, race, gender, or socioeconomic background. In 2016 alone, nearly 45,000 Americans aged 10 or older died by suicide and countless more attempted to end their life – and sadly, that number is growing. Suicide is now the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, and for those aged 15-24, it’s the third.

While suicide is often a tragic reaction to a temporary, yet painful feeling or situation, there is no single cause – but one thing is for sure – suicide is preventable, and we all have the potential to save a loved one’s life. Read below to learn what to watch for, as well as how to step in and offer support and understanding to someone considering suicide.

Signs to Watch For

While symptoms sometimes go unnoticed, most people who take their own life show at least one warning sign, if not several. If you’re concerned that someone you know may be considering suicide, it’s important to take notice if their demeanor or behavior changes. Below are the most common changes that precipitate suicide attempts.

Speech:

Someone who is considering suicide may talk about:

  • Killing themselves, or having no reason to live
  • Feeling trapped, hopeless, or being in unbearable pain
  • Being burden to others

Behavior:

Someone who is considering suicide may show the following changes in behavior:

  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Isolating from family and friends, withdrawing from activities, or showing a loss of interest in things they once enjoyed
  • Looking for ways to end their life, such as hoarding medication, purchasing weapons, or searching online for different methods
  • Sleeping more or less than usual
  • Visiting or calling friends and family to say goodbye
  • Acting agitated, fatigued, or particularly aggressive
  • Making plans, such as writing a suicide note or giving items of significance away

Mood:

Someone who is considering suicide may appear:

  • Depressed, anxious, or irritable
  • Humiliated or shameful
  • Relief or sudden improvement (sometimes when someone has been feeling unbearably depressed and they decide to end their life, they feel a sense of relief)

Risk Factors:

The following groups are at an increased risk for attempting suicide:

  • Individuals with mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or a substance use disorder, especially when undiagnosed or untreated, as well as people with traumatic brain injuries and painful physical health conditions.
  • Individuals who are experiencing prolonged stress or a stressful life event, such as bullying, relationship or custody issues, unemployment, a financial crisis, or a major loss.
  • Individuals who have been exposed to the loss of another person by suicide; this also includes exposure to graphic accounts of suicide, including on television or in movies.
  • Individuals who have a family history of suicide, have previously attempted suicide, or have experienced abuse, neglect, or trauma.
What You Can Do

It can be upsetting to discover that someone you love wants to take their own life and you may not know how to react or how to help, but it’s important to offer them love and support, to let them know you’re there for them, and most importantly, to determine how much of an immediate risk is present.

Despite popular opinion, asking about suicidal thoughts or feelings won’t push someone into taking action – in fact, giving someone the opportunity to talk about these feelings may reduce the risk that they will act on their suicidal feelings.

Below are several questions to ask that can help you assess how dire the situation is:

  • Are you thinking about dying, or are you considering suicide?
  • Do you have access to a weapon or items that you can use to harm yourself?
  • Have you thought about when you would do it?

If someone you know is threatening to hurt or kill themselves or says they want to die – especially if they have access to a weapon – call 911 immediately. This includes threats on social media, as well as in-person comments. You should also call 911 if they have made a decision on when to take action. Individuals who have made plans are the most at-risk, and it’s important to intervene.

If an immediate threat isn’t present, but you’re concerned about a friend or loved one, you can also offer support by encouraging them to call a hotline or to seek treatment, offering to help them take the steps necessary to get help, removing potentially dangerous items from their home, and by being there for them to offer support and reassurance that things will get better – because whether they can see it or not, things will get better and suicide is not the answer.

Additional Resources:

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please call the Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text NAMI to 741-741 to speak to someone via the Crisis Text Line. If suicide is an immediate risk, please dial 911.

If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of a mental illness, call our appointment line at (510) 770-8040 to schedule an appointment with one of our behavioral health clinicians.

To keep in touch with Tri-City Health Center, click here.