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Suicide Prevention: What to do When a Professional is Not Around

The year 2018 revealed suicide to be the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. It claimed the lives of over 48,000 people and was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34 and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54.

In trying to understand suicide it is important to keep three definitions in mind.

  1. Suicide has been defined as the death of an individual which is caused by self-directed injurious behavior with the intent to die as a result of that behavior.

  2. A suicide attempt is a non-fatal, self-directed, potentially injurious behavior with the intent to die as a result of that behavior; an attempt may not result in injury.

  3. Suicidal ideation involves thinking about, considering or planning suicide.

Often times individuals who are exhibiting suicidal behavior, suicidal ideation or the potential to self-harm are not in the presence of a trained professional with the capabilities to keep them safe. This can be extremely scary and difficult. Have you ever wondered what you should say or do?

Here are tools that can be called upon that may prevent a tragic event from occuring:

When assessing an individual for suicidal ideation or the potential for self-harm there are some common factors that may exist. These include:

  • An existing mental illness

  • Age

  • An existing chronic illness

  • The use of alcohol or other substances

  • The loss of social supports

  • Any previous suicidal thoughts or attempts

  • An organized plan to carry out a suicide

There are also some common warning signs to be aware of when an individual is experiencing suicidal ideation, self-harm or suicidal behaviors. These include:

  • Threats to hurt or kill oneself

  • Seeking access to the means to hurt or kill oneself

  • Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide

  • Feeling hopeless

  • Feeling worthless or having a lack of purpose

  • Feeling helpless

  • Feeling trapped or isolated

  • Acting restlessly or engaging in risky activities

  • Increased use of alcohol or other substances

  • Withdrawing from families, friends or society

  • Demonstrating rage, anger or seeking revenge

  • Appearing agitated

  • Exhibiting a dramatic change in mood.

It is important to understand that a change in an individual’s mood may not appear as a lowering or negative change in mood but may also appear as an increase or positive change in mood. This increase may be reflective of the individual coming to peace or having the resolve to actually follow through with a plan to hurt or kill themselves.

It is important to note that simply asking the individual about their feelings of suicide does not put the idea into their head. Furthermore, whenever someone talks about suicide it should always be taken seriously. If an individual is talking about wanting to hurt or kill themselves, questions to ask may include:

  • Are you having thoughts of suicide?

  • Are you thinking about killing yourself?

  • Have you decided how you are going to kill yourself?

  • Have you decided when you would hurt or kill yourself?

  • Have you collected the thing you would need to carry out your plan?

Any answer “yes” to the above questions indicates a serious risk of suicide. Your job at this point is to keep the individual safe until professional help is secured. Ideas to help keep the individual safe may include:

  • Discussing your observations with the individual

  • Asking the question without the tone of dread in your voice

  • Do not express negative judgment

  • Appear as confident as you can

  • Try and be reassuring

Individuals will likely feel a great deal of relief simply talking through their feelings and thoughts about wanting to hurt or kill themselves. Other thoughts that you may entertain as you help may include:

  • Telling the individual that thoughts of suicide are common and do not have to be acted upon

  • Encourage the individual to do most of the talking

  • Express empathy for what the individual is going through

  • Let the individual know you are concerned and are willing to help

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