American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – Central Texas is the Charity Partner for Badass Texas.
BY: Jayne Whisnant
I was 18 the first time I asked someone if they were thinking about suicide. I had sensed a friend was struggling for several weeks, though they never said out loud they were depressed. It just happened that during those several weeks I was taught the warning signs of suicide and how to have a conversation with someone you are concerned about.
That was 12 years ago, and the person I had a #RealConvo with – and who I led to help – is not only still alive, but living a happy and fulfilling life.
While there is no single cause for suicide, there are risk factors and warning signs which may increase likelihood of an attempt. Learning them can save lives.
What Leads to Suicide?
There’s no single cause for suicide. Suicide most often occurs when stressors and health issues converge to create an experience of hopelessness and despair. Depression is the most common condition associated with suicide, and it is often undiagnosed or untreated. Conditions like depression, anxiety, and substance problems, especially when unaddressed, increase risk for suicide. Yet it’s important to note that most people who actively manage their mental health conditions go on to engage in life.
|Watch for the warning signs, in yourself and others. warning signs are observable signs that signal suicidal risk in the near future. If you see warning signs, reach out to individuals in your life you’re concerned about, and reach out to others if you’re struggling. Seek mental health services if you are depressed or if your anxiety regularly interferes with your daily life, and encourage others to do the same.|
Suicide warning signs are typically displayed in three main ways that we can detect: Talk, Behavior, and Mood.
Many people who are suicidal talk about ending their lives. This may be directly or indirectly.
Behaviors that are atypical for an individual should also encourage you to speak to the person about what you are noticing.
People at risk for suicide can display — often quite subtly — any of the moods displayed in the graphic. We all have ups and downs in our mood, but when you notice a change that seems uncharacteristic or concerning, it is important to speak to the person about what you are noticing. For example, sudden, unexplained happiness can indicate the individual has decided on a plan and is relieved they will no longer be in pain.
That’s a lot of things to look for, so to sum it up: look for changes in behavior and trust your instincts. Assume you are the only one who is going to reach out. In too many instances, people talked about their concern for someone amongst themselves, but hesitate to reach out to the person directly. So here’s a rule of thumb: if you are wondering if someone is depressed, or overly anxious: that’s a sure sign you should reach out. Same goes for you. If you are having suicidal thoughts, that’s a sure sign you need to seek help. If you have reached out before, reach out again. The first time the person may not be receptive – keep trying. Try talking to someone else or with a professional. And even if suicide turns out not be a concern, they may still be in distress, and they may feel comforted and supported just by knowing you care and are taking the time to listen.
How to have a conversation
So how do you reach out to someone? Talk to them in private. Listen to their story. Express concern and caring. Ask directly about suicidal thoughts. Don’t be afraid to ask the question: “Are you thinking of ending your life?” Encourage them to seek mental health services. If in crisis, take them to help.
There are some things to avoid when talking with someone who may be suffering from depression or anxiety. Avoid minimizing their feelings. Those of us who have never experienced major depression literally cannot imagine what it feels like. Avoid trying to convince them life is worth living. If a person is nearing a crisis point, they are not thinking clearly. Philosophical debates about life being worth living tend not to be helpful. Avoid advice to fix it. If the person is having a heart attack, you wouldn’t tell them to start exercising or to eat a healthier diet.
If they are in crisis, what they need is to be heard and then led to help. Listen to their story, and offer to help them find a health professional. Help them take active steps toward keeping their environment safe.
If you think they might make an attempt on their life soon -stay with them. Do not leave them alone. However, if the situation puts your own safety at-risk, leave the area immediately and call 911. Help them remove lethal means, or remove themselves from the potentially dangerous area. Escort them to mental health services or an emergency room.
Help them to call the Lifeline, or call the Lifeline yourself and a trained counselor will tell you what you should do to help the person in distress. If they don’t feel comfortable speaking to a counselor on the phone, they can also text TALK to the Crisis Text Line at 741741. Save these numbers in your phone now in case you or someone you know may ever need them.
Suicide can be prevented. Together we can create a culture that is smart about mental health and suicide prevention. To learn more visit afsp.org/signs or afsp.org/realconvo.