This week is Suicide Prevention Week. The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 1 million people die each year from suicide. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, at least 90% of all people who die by suicide suffered from one or more mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or depression.
During designated days of awareness, it’s critical to learn about resources to help those struggling with suicidal thoughts, and understand what you can do to help loved ones. Suicide prevention begins with recognizing warning signs and knowing how to address the situation. It can be scary to discuss the topic of suicide with a friend or family member, but having that open conversation could help save someone’s life.
To someone not experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts, it may be challenging to understand how extremely negative emotions could drive an individual to suicide. To someone contemplating suicide, it may feel like there is no other way to find relief from those painful emotions.
However, many people who are feeling suicidal are conflicted when it comes to the action of ending their own lives. It’s critical to understand the warning signs and know ways you can help someone who is struggling. Suicidal thoughts don’t emerge out of thin air. The risk factors vary depending on age and mental health.
For example, teens and older adults are more likely to contemplate suicide. Teenagers often deal with a number of pressures, like self-doubt and the desire to fit in, that can lead to depression or suicidal thoughts. For older adults, loneliness, physical illness, or the recent death of a loved one can all be contributing factors to feeling suicidal or depressed.
Warning signs of suicide can show up in a few different ways. From feelings of hopelessness to withdrawing from others, suicidal ideation may manifest itself differently based on the individual. Whether it’s a subtle warning sign or a major red flag, individuals who are thinking about suicide often signal their intentions as a way to ask for help. If someone you know is speaking openly about ending their life, has self-destructive behavior, or begins to get their affairs in order, it’s important to speak up.
It may feel intimidating to initiate this type of conversation, but the sooner you offer support, the quicker your loved one can receive proper care. You can approach the conversation with a question or a statement of support. Try, "How can I best support you right now?" or "You are not alone in this. I’m here for you."
If a friend or family member explicitly tells you that they are thinking about death or suicide, it’s important to assess if they have a plan, a means and time to carry out that plan, and the intention to see it through. The best way to help a loved one who is thinking about suicide is to listen to them and let them know that they are supported and not alone. Help them find professional support and encourage them to make healthy lifestyle changes. If a doctor prescribes any medication, make sure your friend or loved one is taking it as directed.
If you believe someone you know is likely to attempt suicide, call a local crisis center, dial 911, or take that person to the emergency room. Remove objects that a person could use to end their life, and do not leave them alone.
Remember that you alone are not responsible for making your loved one well, they also must make a personal commitment to recovery. Speaking up and offering support to a loved one who is contemplating suicide takes an extraordinary amount of courage. Seeing someone you care about struggling can also stir up difficult feelings within yourself. If you’re helping someone who is thinking about taking their life, make sure to put aside time to take care of yourself too.
Take a look at these resources and learn more ways you can help a loved struggling with suicidal thoughts here.