Suicide: The Warning Signs

Reviewed May 27, 2017

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Summary

If someone you care about is thinking about suicide:

  • Take all threats seriously.
  • Get immediate expert help.
  • Help the person get to a safe place.

Every year in the U.S., there are substantially more suicide attempts than actual completed suicides. But for those that happen, friends, co-workers, and loved ones often are left shocked and guilt-ridden for not noticing the danger signs for suicide before it was too late.
 
If we keep our eyes and ears open, we might be able to spot trouble before it progresses to a desperate point. Don’t let hindsight be the only way you spot a loved one’s problem. Learn the warning signs of suicide today:

1. A person thinking about suicide may talk of despair and hopelessness.

Depression—the number one cause of suicide—is related to a sense of loss and hopelessness. This serious but treatable mental health condition can be caused by many things, including a chemical imbalance in the brain or a trauma.

Depression, combined with traumatic life events, such as losing a job, home, pet, or a loved one, or being the target of bullying, can make people feel hopeless. When a person has no support system—no parents, no partner, no friends—she loses hope that anything in life will change for the better. 

Listen for talk about too many bad things piling up, or some particular situation being “the last straw.” 
Someone considering suicide may feel helpless, no longer in charge of his own life, explains LeslieBeth Wish, PhD, a psychologist in Sarasota, FL. 

“People drowning in problems may feel that life is happening to them all the time, and they have no control or ability to change the situation they are in.”

He may be looking at the world from a narrow point of view and see no way out. The end of life may seem like an antidote to his own emotional or physical pain, or that of loved ones, says psychiatrist Gabriela Cora, MD.

2. He may appear to be preparing for departure.

Your teen starts giving away her treasured clothes or jewelry. A co-worker decides to train a colleague to do her job. A friend calls you late at night to apologize for a rift that occurred years ago.

Be on alert if, all of a sudden, someone you know starts tying up loose ends, or giving you gifts that they “always wanted to give you.” Long-belated apologies or too many compliments may be your friend’s way of leaving an emotional gift behind. That special attention could be “a goodbye disguised as generosity,” Wish says. 

3. She might talk or joke about different methods to complete suicide.

Take all talk of suicide seriously, even if it is couched in a joke. Pay attention. Is this behavior out of character? Is it something new? Is this person dealing with many difficulties? Rely on your radar.

Who is at risk?

We all have problems at different times in our lives, but everyone does not attempt suicide, even when problems are serious. Certain situations and environments seem to go hand-in-hand with a person’s wish to end his life. Here are some of the biggest risk factors: 

  • Depression, substance use, or a combination of the two. More than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have these risk factors.
  • The early stages of recovery from depression. Sometimes a person in recovery is at higher risk of suicide than he might have been prior to treatment. Recovery is a slow process that does not always move in a linear fashion. He may take one step forward, two steps back, and then feel like he has failed his last chance at peace and happiness. A person in recovery needs a great deal of support.
  • Prior attempts at suicide. More than 10 times as many people attempt suicide as die by it. Most people who die by suicide have attempted it before. 
  • Living in a family with substance use, domestic abuse, and/or poor mental health.
  • The suicide of a family member or someone a person loves or admires, such as a favorite entertainer, teacher, or friend.  
  • Guns available in the home. More than half of suicides involve firearms.
  • Poor support structure. Without the support of a circle of friends, family, spiritual community, or friendly co-workers, anyone can easily fall through the cracks in a crisis.
  • Living in a high-incidence environment. The five states with the highest rates of suicide per 100,000 people are Montana, Alaska, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Utah, according to 2014 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. The five states with the lowest rates are New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Maryland.

What can you do or say?

  • Talk to your friend in a warm, nonjudgmental way. Say you care, and want to help. Do everything you can to reduce any embarrassment she might feel over what she is doing. Tell him he has nothing to be ashamed of. We all have problems.
  • Talk about feelings you have in common. Talk about the importance of your relationship.
  • Say, you are not alone. Many people have reached the same point where you are now, then turned around and gotten back on track. You can do it, too. Somewhere, there is someone waiting to help you find your way back.
  • Sometimes our problems seem insurmountable over time.
  • Life takes courage. You have more strength than you give yourself credit for. Give yourself every opportunity to make your life what you want it to be. 
  • Tell your friend you will find someone to help—a friend, loved one, doctor, hospital. Contact the appropriate person, and then go with the person as support.

If you or your loved one are in a crisis and need help immediately, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433) any time, any day. Or go to www.suicide.org online. These 24-hour-a-day suicide prevention lifelines are free services, available to anyone. All calls are confidential.

Resources

Families for Depression Awareness
Helps families recognize and cope with depressive disorders to ease pain and prevent suicides
www.familyaware.org

Signs of Suicide (SOS)
www.mentalhealthscreening.org

Suicide Prevention Resource Center
Prevention support, training and resources to assist organizations and individuals
www.sprc.org

Yellow Ribbon International Suicide Prevention Program
Prevention and crisis information for all ages
www.yellowribbon.org

By Paula Hartman Cohen
Source: Gabriela Cora, MD, MBA, psychiatrist, author, wellness coach, Miami, FL; William Shryer, DCSW, LCSW, Clinical Director, Diablo Behavioral Healthcare, Danville, CA; LeslieBeth Wish, EdD, MSS, psychologist, licensed clinical social worker, and Co-director of The Counseling Network of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, Sarasota, FL, which offers free counseling for grief, post-traumatic stress, and family and children needs for military families and veterans; Synopsis of Psychiatry by Benjamin J. Sadock, Virginia A. Sadock and Pedro Ruiz, MD, LWW, 11th edition, 2014.
Reviewed by Jenni Myers, LCSW, Director, Corporate Strategy, and Dale Seamans, Executive Editor, Thought Leadership, Beacon Health Options

Summary

If someone you care about is thinking about suicide:

  • Take all threats seriously.
  • Get immediate expert help.
  • Help the person get to a safe place.

Every year in the U.S., there are substantially more suicide attempts than actual completed suicides. But for those that happen, friends, co-workers, and loved ones often are left shocked and guilt-ridden for not noticing the danger signs for suicide before it was too late.
 
If we keep our eyes and ears open, we might be able to spot trouble before it progresses to a desperate point. Don’t let hindsight be the only way you spot a loved one’s problem. Learn the warning signs of suicide today:

1. A person thinking about suicide may talk of despair and hopelessness.

Depression—the number one cause of suicide—is related to a sense of loss and hopelessness. This serious but treatable mental health condition can be caused by many things, including a chemical imbalance in the brain or a trauma.

Depression, combined with traumatic life events, such as losing a job, home, pet, or a loved one, or being the target of bullying, can make people feel hopeless. When a person has no support system—no parents, no partner, no friends—she loses hope that anything in life will change for the better. 

Listen for talk about too many bad things piling up, or some particular situation being “the last straw.” 
Someone considering suicide may feel helpless, no longer in charge of his own life, explains LeslieBeth Wish, PhD, a psychologist in Sarasota, FL. 

“People drowning in problems may feel that life is happening to them all the time, and they have no control or ability to change the situation they are in.”

He may be looking at the world from a narrow point of view and see no way out. The end of life may seem like an antidote to his own emotional or physical pain, or that of loved ones, says psychiatrist Gabriela Cora, MD.

2. He may appear to be preparing for departure.

Your teen starts giving away her treasured clothes or jewelry. A co-worker decides to train a colleague to do her job. A friend calls you late at night to apologize for a rift that occurred years ago.

Be on alert if, all of a sudden, someone you know starts tying up loose ends, or giving you gifts that they “always wanted to give you.” Long-belated apologies or too many compliments may be your friend’s way of leaving an emotional gift behind. That special attention could be “a goodbye disguised as generosity,” Wish says. 

3. She might talk or joke about different methods to complete suicide.

Take all talk of suicide seriously, even if it is couched in a joke. Pay attention. Is this behavior out of character? Is it something new? Is this person dealing with many difficulties? Rely on your radar.

Who is at risk?

We all have problems at different times in our lives, but everyone does not attempt suicide, even when problems are serious. Certain situations and environments seem to go hand-in-hand with a person’s wish to end his life. Here are some of the biggest risk factors: 

  • Depression, substance use, or a combination of the two. More than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have these risk factors.
  • The early stages of recovery from depression. Sometimes a person in recovery is at higher risk of suicide than he might have been prior to treatment. Recovery is a slow process that does not always move in a linear fashion. He may take one step forward, two steps back, and then feel like he has failed his last chance at peace and happiness. A person in recovery needs a great deal of support.
  • Prior attempts at suicide. More than 10 times as many people attempt suicide as die by it. Most people who die by suicide have attempted it before. 
  • Living in a family with substance use, domestic abuse, and/or poor mental health.
  • The suicide of a family member or someone a person loves or admires, such as a favorite entertainer, teacher, or friend.  
  • Guns available in the home. More than half of suicides involve firearms.
  • Poor support structure. Without the support of a circle of friends, family, spiritual community, or friendly co-workers, anyone can easily fall through the cracks in a crisis.
  • Living in a high-incidence environment. The five states with the highest rates of suicide per 100,000 people are Montana, Alaska, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Utah, according to 2014 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. The five states with the lowest rates are New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Maryland.

What can you do or say?

  • Talk to your friend in a warm, nonjudgmental way. Say you care, and want to help. Do everything you can to reduce any embarrassment she might feel over what she is doing. Tell him he has nothing to be ashamed of. We all have problems.
  • Talk about feelings you have in common. Talk about the importance of your relationship.
  • Say, you are not alone. Many people have reached the same point where you are now, then turned around and gotten back on track. You can do it, too. Somewhere, there is someone waiting to help you find your way back.
  • Sometimes our problems seem insurmountable over time.
  • Life takes courage. You have more strength than you give yourself credit for. Give yourself every opportunity to make your life what you want it to be. 
  • Tell your friend you will find someone to help—a friend, loved one, doctor, hospital. Contact the appropriate person, and then go with the person as support.

If you or your loved one are in a crisis and need help immediately, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433) any time, any day. Or go to www.suicide.org online. These 24-hour-a-day suicide prevention lifelines are free services, available to anyone. All calls are confidential.

Resources

Families for Depression Awareness
Helps families recognize and cope with depressive disorders to ease pain and prevent suicides
www.familyaware.org

Signs of Suicide (SOS)
www.mentalhealthscreening.org

Suicide Prevention Resource Center
Prevention support, training and resources to assist organizations and individuals
www.sprc.org

Yellow Ribbon International Suicide Prevention Program
Prevention and crisis information for all ages
www.yellowribbon.org

By Paula Hartman Cohen
Source: Gabriela Cora, MD, MBA, psychiatrist, author, wellness coach, Miami, FL; William Shryer, DCSW, LCSW, Clinical Director, Diablo Behavioral Healthcare, Danville, CA; LeslieBeth Wish, EdD, MSS, psychologist, licensed clinical social worker, and Co-director of The Counseling Network of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, Sarasota, FL, which offers free counseling for grief, post-traumatic stress, and family and children needs for military families and veterans; Synopsis of Psychiatry by Benjamin J. Sadock, Virginia A. Sadock and Pedro Ruiz, MD, LWW, 11th edition, 2014.
Reviewed by Jenni Myers, LCSW, Director, Corporate Strategy, and Dale Seamans, Executive Editor, Thought Leadership, Beacon Health Options

Summary

If someone you care about is thinking about suicide:

  • Take all threats seriously.
  • Get immediate expert help.
  • Help the person get to a safe place.

Every year in the U.S., there are substantially more suicide attempts than actual completed suicides. But for those that happen, friends, co-workers, and loved ones often are left shocked and guilt-ridden for not noticing the danger signs for suicide before it was too late.
 
If we keep our eyes and ears open, we might be able to spot trouble before it progresses to a desperate point. Don’t let hindsight be the only way you spot a loved one’s problem. Learn the warning signs of suicide today:

1. A person thinking about suicide may talk of despair and hopelessness.

Depression—the number one cause of suicide—is related to a sense of loss and hopelessness. This serious but treatable mental health condition can be caused by many things, including a chemical imbalance in the brain or a trauma.

Depression, combined with traumatic life events, such as losing a job, home, pet, or a loved one, or being the target of bullying, can make people feel hopeless. When a person has no support system—no parents, no partner, no friends—she loses hope that anything in life will change for the better. 

Listen for talk about too many bad things piling up, or some particular situation being “the last straw.” 
Someone considering suicide may feel helpless, no longer in charge of his own life, explains LeslieBeth Wish, PhD, a psychologist in Sarasota, FL. 

“People drowning in problems may feel that life is happening to them all the time, and they have no control or ability to change the situation they are in.”

He may be looking at the world from a narrow point of view and see no way out. The end of life may seem like an antidote to his own emotional or physical pain, or that of loved ones, says psychiatrist Gabriela Cora, MD.

2. He may appear to be preparing for departure.

Your teen starts giving away her treasured clothes or jewelry. A co-worker decides to train a colleague to do her job. A friend calls you late at night to apologize for a rift that occurred years ago.

Be on alert if, all of a sudden, someone you know starts tying up loose ends, or giving you gifts that they “always wanted to give you.” Long-belated apologies or too many compliments may be your friend’s way of leaving an emotional gift behind. That special attention could be “a goodbye disguised as generosity,” Wish says. 

3. She might talk or joke about different methods to complete suicide.

Take all talk of suicide seriously, even if it is couched in a joke. Pay attention. Is this behavior out of character? Is it something new? Is this person dealing with many difficulties? Rely on your radar.

Who is at risk?

We all have problems at different times in our lives, but everyone does not attempt suicide, even when problems are serious. Certain situations and environments seem to go hand-in-hand with a person’s wish to end his life. Here are some of the biggest risk factors: 

  • Depression, substance use, or a combination of the two. More than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have these risk factors.
  • The early stages of recovery from depression. Sometimes a person in recovery is at higher risk of suicide than he might have been prior to treatment. Recovery is a slow process that does not always move in a linear fashion. He may take one step forward, two steps back, and then feel like he has failed his last chance at peace and happiness. A person in recovery needs a great deal of support.
  • Prior attempts at suicide. More than 10 times as many people attempt suicide as die by it. Most people who die by suicide have attempted it before. 
  • Living in a family with substance use, domestic abuse, and/or poor mental health.
  • The suicide of a family member or someone a person loves or admires, such as a favorite entertainer, teacher, or friend.  
  • Guns available in the home. More than half of suicides involve firearms.
  • Poor support structure. Without the support of a circle of friends, family, spiritual community, or friendly co-workers, anyone can easily fall through the cracks in a crisis.
  • Living in a high-incidence environment. The five states with the highest rates of suicide per 100,000 people are Montana, Alaska, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Utah, according to 2014 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. The five states with the lowest rates are New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Maryland.

What can you do or say?

  • Talk to your friend in a warm, nonjudgmental way. Say you care, and want to help. Do everything you can to reduce any embarrassment she might feel over what she is doing. Tell him he has nothing to be ashamed of. We all have problems.
  • Talk about feelings you have in common. Talk about the importance of your relationship.
  • Say, you are not alone. Many people have reached the same point where you are now, then turned around and gotten back on track. You can do it, too. Somewhere, there is someone waiting to help you find your way back.
  • Sometimes our problems seem insurmountable over time.
  • Life takes courage. You have more strength than you give yourself credit for. Give yourself every opportunity to make your life what you want it to be. 
  • Tell your friend you will find someone to help—a friend, loved one, doctor, hospital. Contact the appropriate person, and then go with the person as support.

If you or your loved one are in a crisis and need help immediately, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433) any time, any day. Or go to www.suicide.org online. These 24-hour-a-day suicide prevention lifelines are free services, available to anyone. All calls are confidential.

Resources

Families for Depression Awareness
Helps families recognize and cope with depressive disorders to ease pain and prevent suicides
www.familyaware.org

Signs of Suicide (SOS)
www.mentalhealthscreening.org

Suicide Prevention Resource Center
Prevention support, training and resources to assist organizations and individuals
www.sprc.org

Yellow Ribbon International Suicide Prevention Program
Prevention and crisis information for all ages
www.yellowribbon.org

By Paula Hartman Cohen
Source: Gabriela Cora, MD, MBA, psychiatrist, author, wellness coach, Miami, FL; William Shryer, DCSW, LCSW, Clinical Director, Diablo Behavioral Healthcare, Danville, CA; LeslieBeth Wish, EdD, MSS, psychologist, licensed clinical social worker, and Co-director of The Counseling Network of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, Sarasota, FL, which offers free counseling for grief, post-traumatic stress, and family and children needs for military families and veterans; Synopsis of Psychiatry by Benjamin J. Sadock, Virginia A. Sadock and Pedro Ruiz, MD, LWW, 11th edition, 2014.
Reviewed by Jenni Myers, LCSW, Director, Corporate Strategy, and Dale Seamans, Executive Editor, Thought Leadership, Beacon Health Options

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