Suicide is a leading cause of death in American teenagers, and the rate of suicide in middle aged adults has gone up more than 30% in the past decade. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused an increase in mental health issues which could add an estimated additional 70,000 deaths due to despair-suicide and alcohol-related suicides.
Everyone should be aware of the warning signs of suicide, and what you can do if you’re worried about someone you love. Most people give a sign or signal of some type—the key is to recognize it.
Suicide is a topic that most people don’t really want to think about—let alone talk about. But sometimes, when you start talking to people, you find out how many lives have been touched by the suicide of someone they love.
- Suicide is preventable.
- There is a suicide in the U.S. every 10 minutes.
- In the U.S., 50% more people die by suicide than by homicide!
- More than 90% of all suicides are related to a mood disorder or other psychiatric illness (often depression, which is highly treatable)
- Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among 15-24 year olds; only accidents and homicides are more frequent.
- Males complete suicide at four times the rate of females, but more females attempt suicide.
As mentioned before, most suicidal individuals display warning signs. There are four “types” of clues and warning signs that suicidal individuals usually exhibit:
Direct verbal clues
- Direct verbal clues
- Indirect or coded verbal clues
- Behavioral clues
- Situational clues
include statements such as:
Indirect or coded verbal clues
- I’ve decided to end it all, kill myself, etc.
- I wish I were dead; I wish I wasn’t here anymore.
- If ___________ happens/doesn’t happen, I’m going to kill myself. This “blank” could be things related to the end of a relationship or other personal crisis for the person.
are a little less specific, but should not be ignored. Examples include:
- I’m tired of life. I just want out.
- What’s the point of going on?
- My family would be better off without me.
- No one would care if I was dead.
- Soon I won’t be around/ you won’t have to worry about me much longer.
- You’re going to regret how you’ve treated me.
- Do they preserve organs for transplant if you die suddenly?
- Here, take this (cherished possession). I won’t be needing it anymore. (Obviously, not referring to a family member giving a special gift or inheritance at an appropriate time.)
That last point, of giving things away, leads us to the next category of warning signs. Behavioral clues
are signs someone may give that indicate they’re “putting their affairs in order” as part of considering suicide. These could include:
- Withdrawing from family and friends.
- Dramatic mood changes, sudden outbursts.
- Sleeping all the time/unable to sleep.
- Indicating that they feel sad, empty, depressed all the time.
- No interest in prior activities they enjoyed.
- Neglecting personal appearance.
- Purchasing a gun (unexpectedly).
- Stockpiling pills.
- Putting personal and business affairs in order.
- Making/changing a will.
- Taking out new insurance.
- Making funeral plans.
- Giving away money or prized possessions.
Finally, Situational clues
are related to an event, or life circumstance, that can lead to more helpless/hopeless thoughts and feelings that can increase someone’s risk of suicide.
- Sudden rejection by a loved one (breakups/separation/divorce). (This is a terribly sad cause of many teenage suicides—they don’t realize that this one person breaking up with them really isn’t the end of the world.)
- Death of a spouse, child, friend—especially if it was sudden.
- Diagnosis of a terminal illness.
- A recent move/relocation that is unwanted (such as an elderly person moving to a relative’s home, or a long term care facility, or a young person being forced to leave friends).
- Sudden development of an embarrassing situation or threat of loss of freedom, such as pending arrest, major personal scandal, etc.
- Financial crisis, such as job loss, bankruptcy.
What should you do if you realize someone you care about is exhibiting signs of suicide?
Believe it or not, the single best thing you can do is ASK THEM about it; however, there are good and bad ways to do this.
First of all, here are some quick “setting the stage” tips:
- Plan a time and place to ask the “S” question.
- Try to get the person alone or in some private setting.
- Give yourself a little bit of time….don’t plan on just a 5-10 minute conversation.
- The key is to get them to be honest with you. So helping them feel comfortable and not rushed is important to that.
When you are going to “make the ask” about whether someone is considering suicide, I recommend trying to create some empathy, while still asking the person directly. Here’s an example:
- “You know, some people who are going through (what the person is going through) have considered committing suicide/ending their lives. Have you thought about this?
- Or, “You know, when people are as upset as you seem to be, they sometimes wish they were dead. I’m wondering if you’re feeling that way too?”
The intent is to ask the person in a loving, caring way, without being judgmental or making them feel defensive. That’s why you create the empathy. You want the person to be honest, and by approaching them in a compassionate, caring manner, you’re far more likely to get a real answer.
There are some definite DON’Ts when it comes to asking someone about whether they’re considering suicide.
- DON’T ask them, “So, I know you’ve been in a funk lately. You’re not thinking about doing something crazy, are you?”
- The reason you should NEVER ask that question is because it will make the person defensive, and also, THEY don’t think that suicide is crazy if they’re seriously considering it. And of course, they’ll answer “no” to that question!
- Don’t be too vague. Dancing around the question won’t bring an honest response. For example:
- “Hey, are you doing OK? I know your divorce must really be hard on you, and I noticed you’re not yourself lately.”
- This won’t cause someone to admit that they’re feeling suicidal. It’s too non-specific.
- A lot of people think that by bringing up the topic of suicide, they’ll somehow “plant the idea” in the person’s head. This is not true. In fact, it’s the opposite. Once someone knows that another person cares enough to directly ask them, they’re more likely to get help, and it automatically helps create hope that their life matters to someone else.
So what do you do next if someone admits to you that they are considering ending their own life?
First of all, don’t start lecturing them on the value of life, or asking them “why” or anything along that line because it will make them feel defensive. Also, don’t immediately give advice, or try to “fix things.”
Here’s what to do:
- Start by listening. Listening is the greatest gift you can give to a person who doesn’t feel heard.
- Let the person tell you how they’re feeling without passing judgment.
- Don’t interrupt.
- Try to tame your own fear (of losing this person) so that you can focus on them
Your goal is to help the person decide to get some help
Try to get a “yes” to any of these questions:
- Will you go with me to see a counselor? (or a priest, minister, school nurse, psychologist, or trusted friend or family member) The idea is to get someone else involved who’s in a good position to help.
- Will you let me help you make an appointment/will you let me drive you to….
At this point, you’ve demonstrated that you care tremendously about this person, and that you want to help. That knowledge alone can make a world of difference to someone considering suicide.
Deaconess Cross Pointe offers a 24-hour CARE line at 812-476-7200 or toll free 800-947-6789.
Local Suicide Prevention hotline is 812-422-1100. You may also text or help at 741741.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is truly a life-saver in a crisis situation: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
For more suicide prevention resources, including awareness training classes for groups.