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Talking about suicide

By The Health News Team | September 25, 2023
Recognizing the warning signs of suicide

Suicide: It's a difficult subject for many to discuss. Yet, suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the U.S. among all ages. Knowing the warning signs of suicide and how to prevent it could save a life.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there is no single cause for suicide, but there are some warning signs to watch for, including if an individual is:

  • Talking about wanting to die

  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live

  • Talking about being a burden to others

  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs

  • Sleeping too little or too much

  • Withdrawing or exhibiting signs of isolation

  • Showing loss of interest

Charles Westfall, manager of adult outpatient services at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital, says partaking in riskier behavior and changes in mood and sleep can also be signs a person is at risk of suicide. He explains how the following risk factors can increase the chance a person may try to take their own life.

Health conditions that increase risk of suicide include:

  • Depression

  • Schizophrenia

  • Bipolar disorder

  • Substance abuse disorder

  • Chronic health conditions

"We need to talk more about suicide, instead of shying away due to fears of offending, giving someone the idea, or not knowing what to do next,” says Westfall. “It might be awkward, but fumbling through a conversation is better than avoiding it.”

Westfall says that if you notice someone is struggling or showing changes in their mood and social engagements, broaching the topic from a place of sincere concern can be lifesaving.

“Your goal is to provide hope and get the individual help from a professional,” he says.

Environmental factors that increase risk of suicide include:

  • Stressful life events that create significant distress, such as relational conflicts, job loss or events resulting in feeling overwhelmed

  • Access to lethal means, including firearms and drugs

  • Exposure to another person's suicide

“There continues to be a lot of uncertainty in the world, financially and socially, as we work to return to a new normal from the pandemic," says Westfall. "It makes sense people are hurting and struggling. That is why receiving support is so important."

He adds that it’s critical to listen to what people say, intervene and help them find support.

Historical factors that increase risk of suicide include:

  • Previous suicide attempts

  • Family history of suicide attempts

"Previous suicide attempts and a family history of deaths by suicide are very significant risk factors, regardless of mental health condition or environmental factors," says Westfall. "For many people, the lethality of their attempts increases each time. The combination of environmental circumstances and the individual's interpretation of events can increase risk."

Take action to save a life

If someone you know is exhibiting warning signs or risk factors of suicide, taking action as soon as possible is critical.

Think of the situation as a silent emergency, and follow these steps:

  1. Connect with the person and share your concerns.

  2. Ask the person directly, "Are you thinking of killing yourself?"

  3. Encourage the person to get help or offer to get help for them.

  4. Assist in restricting access to lethal means, like firearms.

  5. Create a safety plan with phone numbers of people to call in case the person starts having suicidal thoughts.

  6. Help them stay connected to a support system.

  7. If it seems that the person may harm themselves, do not leave them alone. Take them to the nearest emergency room or dial 911.

For additional assistance, the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is reachable by calling or texting just three numbers — 988 — from anywhere in the country.

If you or a loved one is experiencing a severe mental health condition, learn how Sharp Mesa Vista can help.

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