Suicide prevention does not get nearly enough attention. Our friends and loved ones may be contemplating suicide or have already attempted to end their lives. Meanwhile, we're in the dark. We miss the signs because we do not know common predictors and indicators. The more we understand, the more we can help the people around us.
Who Is at Higher Risk of Suicide
Statistically speaking, some people are at higher risk of suicide attempts, although these attempts affect many demographics. Here's a rundown of people in these higher-risk groups:
Have a diagnosis such as borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia or a mood disorder
Related to people who are suicidal or who have committed suicide
Are older (the older the person, the more likely the chances of "successful" suicide, except for ages 15-24)
Fall into the 15-24 age bracket
Are grieving the loss of a loved one
Are under excessive stress
Are seriously or chronically ill
Were recently released from the hospital
Caucasians are more likely to kill themselves, and Protestants tend to be more successful with their suicide attempts than Catholics and Jewish people. Women make more suicide attempts, but men succeed more often.
People do try to kill themselves even if they do not meet any of the criteria above. However, you may want to pay extra attention to friends and loved ones who fit somewhere on the list.
The Major Warning Signs of Suicide
Certain telltale behaviors are major indicators of suicidal thoughts. Let's look at them.
An actual suicide plan
Directly warning of suicide
Giving away cherished possessions
Statements such as, "The world would be better off without me."
It is normal for people contemplating suicide to experience contradictory thoughts. These thoughts may be both life-preserving and self-destructive.
If a loved one is suddenly upbeat and giving away possessions after being depressed for a long time, these are possible signs of an imminent suicide attempt. Check on your loved one as soon as possible, and open the lines of communication.
What You Can Do
If someone you know is considering suicide, your goal is to get them the help they need. In the meantime:
Focus on getting the person through the immediate crisis at hand
Minimize the person's isolation by mobilizing their interpersonal network (or a network of some kind, if they do not have one)
Emphasize to the person that you care about them
Highlight the person's strengths
Validate the person's feelings and problems, and acknowledge their wish to die
Discuss the problems that created the crisis and how they could be prevented in the future
Give realistic hope that these current problems can be solved (and prevented in the future)
It may help to set out a "verbal" contract, which is a tool many professionals use. They ask that clients call them before attempting suicide, and you can do something similar. Mandate that your loved one get in touch with you.
Strongly encourage your loved one to seek professional help. Hopefully, they will learn coping skills for the issues that made them consider suicide and come up with solutions. Professionals can also assist in diagnosing and/or treating concurrent issues such as substance abuse, alcoholism, mental illness or depression. These types of issues must be addressed for a person to get healthier in the big picture.