Jessie Wolf, L.I.C.S.W.
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Awareness, intervention help prevent suicide
Suicide affects people from all walks of life, cultures and socioeconomic statuses. Suicide rates increased by 30% from 2000 to 2018. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10–14 and 25–34.
However, suicide is preventable.
Most people want to live. But they can't see alternative solutions and feel stuck because of how dire their situation feels. For many people, their ability to reason and problem-solve positive solutions is affected, resulting in impulsive decision-making.
How to help someone with suicidal thoughts
Two important things people can do to help, whether you are a friend, family member, co-worker, teacher or community member, are:
- Reach out to a person who may be struggling with suicidal thoughts.
It's as easy as saying, "I care, I'm here and I want to listen."
- Become familiar with suicide risk factors, warning signs and what to do to help.
These two actions can make the difference between life and death.
Identifying suicide risks
Risk factors do not cause or predict suicide. However, identifying risks brings awareness of the possibility that someone will consider suicide.
Common suicide risks include:
- Feeling hopeless
- Feeling worthless
- Feeling trapped and that the only way out is death
- Loss of purpose
- Shame, guilt and despair
- Stressful life events
- Trauma or abuse
Suicide warning signs
Making certain comments or exhibiting certain behaviors can often indicate a strong likelihood of someone considering suicide.
Watch for someone who is:
- Acting agitated, anxious or reckless
- Displaying extreme mood swings
- Giving away valued personal belongings
- Increasing drug or alcohol use
- Showing anger or rage, or expressing a desire to seek revenge
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill him or herself
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
- Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Withdrawing or isolating
Interventions you can do for someone feeling suicidal
Increasing awareness of suicidal risk factors and warning signs is the first step. The second step is knowing what to do when someone is potentially suicidal.
Here are four interventions to keep in mind if you're in a situation to help someone who is feeling suicidal:
- Be willing to listen.
Get involved and suspend judgment during your conversation. Be authentic, empathetic and sincere.
Directly ask if the person is considering suicide or wants to die. Avoid asking why. Instead, request that the person help you understand his or her thought process and current struggles. Thank the person for being honest and trusting you.
- Reduce risks.
Remove or secure all guns, ammunition, and prescription and over-the-counter medications from the person's possession. Even acetaminophen and ibuprofen can be dangerous in this situation.
- Seek help for urgent needs.
If someone verbalizes suicidal thoughts, has a plan, or tells you they will kill him or herself, call 911 immediately or take the person to the nearest emergency department.
Note these crisis phone numbers:
- 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline
Call 988, or chat at 988lifeline.org.
- Crisis text line
Text "HOME" to 741-741.
Everyone plays a role in suicide prevention. Stay aware of risks and warning signs, and do not hesitate to offer help when needed.
Jessie Wolf is a clinical social worker in Psychiatry & Psychology in New Prague, Minnesota.