Suicide prevention: What to look for and what to do
Suicide is the 4th leading cause of death worldwide for 15-29 year olds and numbers are on the rise. The statics on suicide can be scary, especially if you are concerned about yourself or someone close to you. Knowing the warning signs of and risk factors for suicidal behavior, and seeking help as soon as possible can help save lives.
The National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline
The Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in the United States. If you or someone you know is at risk for suicidal behavior, dial the crisis lifeline at 988.
Warning signs of suicidal behavior
Suicidal warning signs may not always be obvious, but they will always be present. Knowing the warning signs can help you pick up on signals that can be easily missed. If you’ve noticed the below behaviors in yourself or someone you know, you should get help as soon as possible, especially if the behavior is new or has recently increased.
- Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves
- Talking about feeling empty, hopeless, or having no reason to live
- Making a plan or looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching for lethal methods online, stockpiling pills, or buying a gun
- Talking about strong feelings of guilt or shame
- Talking about feeling trapped or feeling that there are no solutions
- Feeling unbearable pain (emotional pain or physical pain)
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Using alcohol or drugs more often
- Increasing agitation
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Lack of sleep
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Taking great risks that could lead to death, such as driving extremely fast
- Talking or thinking about death often
- Displaying extreme mood swings, with prominent irritability and aggression
- Giving away important possessions
- Saying goodbye to friends and family
- Putting affairs in order, making a will
- Lack of future plans
Suicide affects all races, genders, and age ranges. There is no single cause for suicidal behavior. Those that are most at risk for suicide tend to have some characteristics in common.
The main risk factors are:
- Depression, other mental disorders, or substance abuse disorder
- Physical illness or impairment
- Terminal illnesses
- Chronic pain
- A prior suicide attempt
- Having a former suicide attempt with high lethality
- Family history of a mental disorder or substance abuse
- History of suicide in the family
- Family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
- Having guns or other firearms in the home
- Recently released from prison or jail or a history of criminal behavior
- Relationship stress/ living alone/divorced, separated or single
- Impulsive or aggressive tendencies
- Prior history of adverse childhood experiences like traumatic experience or former abuse.
- Being exposed to others' suicidal behavior, such as that of family members, peers, or celebrities
- Lack of access to healthcare
- Facing discrimination
How to help someone in a crisis
If you or someone you know is showing signs of contemplating suicide, reach out for professional help right away.
Here are 5 steps you can take to help someone in a crisis connect with a professional:
- ASK: "Are you thinking about suicide?" This can be an incredibly difficult question to ask, but research confirms that asking does not increase a person's risk for suicide and can actually help prevent suicide from occurring.
- KEEP THEM SAFE: Removing or limiting a person’s access to lethal items is an important step in preventing suicide. This can be difficult to do but if the suicidal person has a plan, removing a key piece of it can make a difference.
- BE THERE: Listen carefully to what the individual is feeling and thinking.
- HELP THEM CONNECT: You can help the individual get in contact with a family member, friend, or mental health professional. If you don't know who to call you can always dial the 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. You can also text 741741 and contact the Crisis Text Line.
- STAY CONNECTED: Following-up with an at-risk person after they are discharged from care can make a difference.
Therapies and treatments
Various types of treatment methods have been shown to help individuals who exhibit suicidal behavior.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
CBT is a type of talk therapy that helps people cope with difficult experiences. CBT allows people to identify their thought patterns and try to consider alternative actions and improve their overall wellbeing.
Dialectical behavior therapy
Dialectical behavior therapy is another method of talk therapy that has been shown to reduce suicidal behavior in adolescents. This form of therapy teaches an individual to recognize when their feelings or actions are disruptive or unhealthy, and teaches skills needed to appropriately cope with upsetting situations.
Some individuals at risk for suicide might benefit from medication. Doctors and patients can work together to find the best medication or medication combination, as well as the right dose. Because many individuals at risk for suicide often have a mental health condition, medications are typically prescribed in conjunction with talk therapy.
Having an untreated mental health condition like depression or substance use disorder can increase your risk of suicide. Asking for help can be hard, but if you are experiencing a mental health condition or think you may be, it’s important to seek professional treatment as soon as possible.
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The information in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.
Dr. Nidhi Sharoha is a double board certified psychiatrist in Psychiatry and Consultation Liaison Psychiatry. She completed her undergraduate training at Stony Brook University followed by medical school at New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine. She has completed both a Residency in Psychiatry and Fellowship in Consultation Liaison Psychiatry at Nassau University Medical Center.
Dr. Sharoha has held academic appointment at Stony Brook University Hospital, practicing as a consultant psychiatrist as well as the Associate Director of Consultation Liaison Psychiatry Fellowship Program. She has been deeply involved in teaching throughout her years
She has a genuine interest in treating a vast array of psychiatric disorders including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders, post traumatic stress disorders and obsessive compulsive and related disorders. She also has experience in treating patients with medical comorbidities and has training in issues related to women’s health.
Patients looking for a psychiatric provider will find that Dr. Sharoha has a gentle approach to diagnosis and management of her patients. She believes in the principle that body and mind are interconnected which allows her to provide comprehensive care to all of her patients.