Suicide is an uncomfortable and scary topic but one that cannot afford to be avoided or ignored. One of the most significant things you can do when you believe someone is contemplating suicide is have the conversation, ask the questions.
Below is a high level overview of suicide risk factors, environmental factors, and protective factors. Risk factors for suicide are characteristics or conditions that increase the chance that a person may try to take her or his life. Some people who have one or more of the major risk factors can become suicidal in the face of factors in their environment. Protective factors for suicide are characteristics or conditions that may help to decrease a person’s suicide risk.
|Depression||Highly stressful event: losing someone close or financial loss||Receiving effective mental health care|
|Schizophrenia||Prolonged stress due to unemployment, relationship conflict, harassment or bullying||Positive connections to family, peers, community, and social institutions such as marriage and religion that foster resilience|
|Anxiety disorders||Exposure to another person’s suicide||The skills and ability to problem solve|
|Substance Abuse/Dependence||Graphic or sensationalized accounts of suicide|
|Previous suicide attempt|
|Family history of attempt or completed suicide|
In contrast to longer term risk and protective factors, warning signs are indicators of more immediate suicide risk.
A person who is thinking about suicide may say so directly: “I’m going to kill myself.” More commonly, they may say something more indirect: “I just want the pain to end,” or “I can’t see any way out.”
Most of the time, people who kill themselves show one or more of these warning signs before they take action:
- Talking about wanting to kill themselves, or saying they wish they were dead
- Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as hoarding medicine or buying a gun
- Talking about a specific suicide plan
- Feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
- Feeling trapped, desperate, or needing to escape from an intolerable situation
- Having the feeling of being a burden to others
- Feeling humiliated
- Losing interest in things, or losing the ability to experience pleasure
- Becoming socially isolated and withdrawn from friends, family, and others
- Acting irritable or agitated
- Showing rage, or talking about seeking revenge for being victimized or rejected, whether or not the situations the person describes seem real
If you suspect someone may be at risk for suicide take it seriously. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention 50% to 75% of all people who attempt suicide tell someone about their intention. If you have reason for concern ask questions, encourage professional help, and take action.
- Begin by telling the suicidal person you are concerned about them.
- Tell them specifically what they have said or done that makes you feel concerned about suicide.
- Don’t be afraid to ask whether the person is considering suicide, and whether they have a particular plan or method in mind. These questions will not push them toward suicide if they were not considering it.
- Ask if they are seeing a clinician or are taking medication so the treating person can be contacted.
- Do not try to argue someone out of suicide. Instead, let them know that you care, that they are not alone and that they can get help. Avoid pleading and preaching to them with statements such as, “You have so much to live for,” or “Your suicide will hurt your family.”
Encourage Professional Help
- Actively encourage the person to see a physician or mental health professional immediately.
- People considering suicide often believe they cannot be helped. If you can, assist them to identify a professional and schedule an appointment. If they will let you, go to the appointment with them.
- If the person is threatening, talking about, or making specific plans for suicide, this is a crisis requiring immediate attention. Do not leave the person alone.
- Remove any firearms, drugs, or sharp objects that could be used for suicide from the area.
- Take the person to a walk-in clinic at a psychiatric hospital or a hospital emergency room.
- If these options are not available, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for assistance.
By, Sarah Engler