Jessie Wolf, L.I.C.S.W.
Behavioral Health, Psychiatry & Psychology
Speaking of HealthOffering support to the grievingJune 09, 2015
Suicide is a serious problem. Suicide is a human problem and affects people in all walks of life, culture and socioeconomic status. It’s the second leading cause of death for individuals ages 10-34 and the fourth leading cause of death for those ages 35-54. Suicide is preventable. Most people want to live — they’re simply unable to see alternative solutions and feel stuck.
The path to healing starts with one person saying, “I care, and I’m here to listen.” Being aware of suicide risk factors and warning signs, and knowing what to do to help, can be the difference between life and death.
Risk factors don’t cause or predict suicide. However, identifying risks brings awareness of the possibility that someone will consider suicide.
Common risks include:
- Feeling trapped and that the only way out is death
- Loss of purpose
- Trauma or abuse
- Shame, guilt and despair
- Stressful life events
Making certain comments or displaying particular behaviors often indicates a strong likelihood an individual is considering suicide. Watch for:
- Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill him or herself
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
- Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing drug or alcohol use
- Acting agitated, anxious or reckless
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or isolating
- Showing anger, rage or expressing a desire to seek revenge
- Displaying extreme mood swings
- Giving away valued personal belongings
What you can do
Increasing awareness is one thing, but knowing what to do about someone who is potentially suicidal is another. Here are a few interventions to keep in mind if you’re ever in a situation where you need to help a suicidal person:
- Be willing to listen. Get involved, and suspend judgment during your conversation. Be authentic, empathetic and sincere.
- Ask. Directly ask him or her if they’re contemplating suicide or if they want to die. Avoid asking why. Instead, request that the person help you understand their thought process and current struggles. Thank them for being honest and trusting you.
- Mitigate risks. Remove or secure all guns, ammunition and over-the-counter medications — even acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
- Seek help for urgent needs. If someone is verbalizing suicidal thoughts, has a plan or tells you they’re going to kill themselves, call 911 immediately or take them to the nearest Emergency Department.
Crisis phone numbers:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)
- Crisis Textline: Text “HOME” to 741-741
We all play a role in suicide prevention. Stay aware of risks and warning signs, and don’t hesitate to offer help when needed. Together, we can limit this preventable, devastating issue.Jessie Wolf is a licensed independent clinical social worker at Mayo Clinic Health System in Le Sueur.