When You Fear Someone May Take Their Life...
Most suicidal individuals give some warning of their intentions. The most effective way to prevent a friend or loved one from taking his or her life is to recognize the factors that put people at risk for suicide, take warning signs seriously and know how to respond.
Know the Facts
More than 90 percent of people who kill themselves are suffering from one or more psychiatric disorders, in particular:
- Major depression (especially when combined with alcohol and/or drug abuse)
- Bipolar depression
- Alcohol abuse and dependence
- Drug abuse and dependence
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Eating disorders
- Personality disorders
Depression and the other mental disorders that may lead to suicide are -- in most cases -- both recognizable and treatable. Remember, depression can be lethal.
The core symptoms of major depression are a "down" or depressed mood most of the day or a loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were previously enjoyed for at least two weeks, as well as:
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Change in appetite or weight
- Intense anxiety, agitation, restlessness or being slowed down
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Decreased concentration, indecisiveness or poorer memory
- Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, self-reproach or excessive or inappropriate guilt
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
PAST SUICIDE ATTEMPTS
Between 25 and 50 percent of people who kill themselves had previously attempted suicide. Those who have made suicide attempts are at higher risk for actually taking their own lives.
Availability of means
- In the presence of depression and other risk factors, ready access to guns and other weapons, medications or other methods of self-harm increases suicide risk.
Recognize the Imminent Dangers
The signs that most directly warn of suicide include:
- Threatening to hurt or kill oneself
- Looking for ways to kill oneself (weapons, pills or other means)
- Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide
- Has made plans or preparations for a potentially serious attempt
Other warning signs include expressions or other indications of certain intense feelings in addition to depression, in particular:
- Intense anxiety, usually exhibited as psychic pain or internal tension, as well as panic attacks
- Feeling desperate or trapped -- like there's no way out
- Feeling hopeless
- Feeling there's no reason or purpose to live
- Rage or anger
Certain behaviors can also serve as warning signs, particularly when they are not characteristic of the person's normal behavior. These include:
- Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities
- Engaging in violent or self-destructive behavior
- Increasing alcohol or drug use
- Withdrawing from friends or family
Take it Seriously
- Fifty to 75 percent of all suicides give some warning of their intentions to a friend or family member.
- Imminent signs must be taken seriously.
Be Willing to Listen
- Start by telling the person you are concerned and give him/her examples.
- If he/she is depressed, don't be afraid to ask whether he/she is considering suicide, or if he/she has a particular plan or method in mind.
- Ask if they have a therapist and are taking medication.
- Do not attempt to argue someone out of suicide. Rather, let the person know you care, that he/she is not alone, that suicidal feelings are temporary and that depression can be treated. Avoid the temptation to say, "You have so much to live for," or "Your suicide will hurt your family."
Seek Professional Help
- Be actively involved in encouraging the person to see a physician or mental health professional immediately.
- Individuals contemplating suicide often don't believe they can be helped, so you may have to do more.
- Help the person find a knowledgeable mental health professional or a reputable treatment facility, and take them to the treatment.
In an Acute Crisis
- If a friend or loved one is threatening, talking about or making plans for suicide, these are signs of an acute crisis.
- Do not leave the person alone.
- Remove from the vicinity any firearms, drugs or sharp objects that could be used for suicide.
- Take the person to an emergency room or walk-in clinic at a psychiatric hospital.
- If a psychiatric facility is unavailable, go to your nearest hospital or clinic.
- If the above options are unavailable, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Follow-up on Treatment
- Suicidal individuals are often hesitant to seek help and may need your continuing support to pursue treatment after an initial contact.
- If medication is prescribed, make sure your friend or loved one is taking it exactly as prescribed. Be aware of possible side effects and be sure to notify the physician if the person seems to be getting worse. Usually, alternative medications can be prescribed.
- Frequently the first medication doesn't work. It takes time and persistence to find the right medication(s) and therapist for the individual person.