Suicide is the act of purposely ending one’s own life. For most, it is unimaginable that a loved one would attempt to end their own life but it is a vast problem professionals are seeing regularly.
The effects of an attempted suicide or a death by suicide on the loved ones of the individual are overwhelming. People who lose a loved one to suicide are at an increased risk for becoming worried with the reason for the suicide while wondering if they could have stopped it.
Often there are myths about suicide that can slow or stop friends, family and loved ones from acknowledging that someone may be seriously contemplating a death by suicide.
The first myth is that people who talk about suicide don’t commit suicide. The fact is statistics show that eight out of ten people who have died by suicide have communicated their intent beforehand.
The second myth is only specific kinds of people die by taking their own life. The fact is all types of people attempt death by suicide. It occurs in every culture, gender, age, racial, ethnic and religious group.
The third myth is that when a suicidal person begins to feel better, the threat is over. The fact is that most deaths by suicide occur within three months following improvement in the person’s emotional status.
Finally, the fourth myth is that people who make suicidal attempts are simply looking for attention. The fact is people who threaten or attempt suicide are seeking help. Labeling the suicidal attempt as manipulative in no way reduces the potential lethality of their behaviors.
Suicide is clearly a problem we all may encounter with a friend or loved one at some point in our lifetime. Now what can we do to help try to prevent a death by suicide?
Recognize the warning signs. Warning signs are indicators of any threat of death by suicide. Warning signs are the clues that something bigger is going on with the person and that maybe something is happening or about to happen. The warning signs for suicide are on the side panel.
Actively listen. We often underestimate the power of active listening. Listen to the person without interrupting. Be supportive and show that you care. Reflect what the person is saying to you back to them. Avoid being judgmental or arguing.
Take every reference to suicide seriously. Do not neglect or belittle any statement or suggestion about a possible desire to die by suicide. You never know you may be the only person they trust the information with.
Be direct when asking about suicidal intentions. If the person is contemplating a death by suicide, studies show that the person is likely to feel relieved if you ask them are they thinking about a death by suicide. The person may actually welcome the chance to express the pain and hurt they are experiencing.
Get the hard information. If the person is experiencing suicidal thoughts, ask the serious questions: when, where, what and how. Can they answer these questions? Write it all down to help you and them later when you call for help.
Tell someone else and get help. Do not be the only one helping a person who is considering death by suicide. Recognize the limits of your knowledge and responsibility. Share your concerns with appropriate professionals that can assist you in helping this person get the help they need to maintain safety and prevent a loss of life. Do not let your friend or loved one hold you to secrecy; they may be angry but they will be alive.
If you or someone you know are at risk for suicidal behavior or are considering a death by suicide, please reach out for help. The following are 24-hour, toll-free suicide prevention services available to anyone in suicidal crisis: The Prairie View Crisis Line is 1-800-362-0180; The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433).
by Jessica Kerzner, T-LP, LMLP
Prairie View, Inc.
General warning signs that a person may be considering suicide
- Appearing depressed or sad most of the time
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Feeling hopeless or feeling helpless
- Feeling intense anger or rage
- Feeling like there is no way out of a situation
- Experiencing dramatic mood changes
- Abusing drugs or alcohol
- Exhibiting a change in personality
- Acting impulsively
- Losing interest in most activities
- Experiencing a change in sleeping or eating habits
- Losing interest in most activities
- Giving away prized possessions
- Feeling excessive guilt or shame
Adapted from Center for Disease Control and Prevention