By Bob Vandepol, MSW
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, killing 117 people every day. For each death, another 25 people attempt suicide.
We are hearing about suicide in the news and in our social circles more and more often. This is in part because of an increase in suicide, better reporting, and that people are more open to talking about suicide than in past decades. In order to stem this tide, we need to know more about why and when to be on alert and then what action to take, because knowing the warnings signs and what to do if you notice them can help you save the life of a loved one, friend, co-worker or employee.
The #1 Risk Factor for Suicide is a Previous Suicide Attempt
The following D.A.N.G.E.R. signs can help you identify a person who might be at risk.
D – Depression
Over half of the time, a suicidal person is experiencing depression. Clinical depression is a serious medical illness affecting mood, concentration, activity level, interests, appetite, behavior and physical health. The most common of these symptoms include:
- Feeling sad or empty
- Having little interest or pleasure in doing things
- Experiencing a change in appetite with weight loss or weight gain
- Trouble falling or staying asleep, or sleeping too much
- Being tired, fatigued and having no energy
- Feeling worthless or guilty that have let down self or family
- Moving slowly or being overly fidgety and restless
- Having difficulty thinking or concentrating
- Letting personal hygiene go
- Recurring thoughts of hurting yourself or thinking that you’d be better off dead
- Unexplained physical problems such as backaches, headaches, sleep problems, digestive problems
A – Alcohol and Drug Use Increases
Alcohol and drugs may seem like a good way to manage difficult feelings and situations, however substance use usually acts to mask the underlying problem which grows worse because it’s not being addressed. Alcohol is a depressant and it reduces judgment and impulse control—a lethal combination for someone who is considering self-harm. More than one-third of the time someone uses alcohol just before attempting suicide.
N – Negativity
People contemplating suicide are feeling overwhelmed and powerless to get better or to change their circumstances. The feeling is often a symptom of a mental health condition (such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia); a serious or chronic/painful health condition (such as cancer, heart disease, Parkinson’s, ALS, etc.); extremely stressful life events (such as a death, divorce, job/financial loss, or prolonged exposure to abuse, harassment or bullying).
G – Giving Away
Frequently, those with suicidal plans activate a “living will” by allocating cherished objects, positions, activities and relationships to others. In some cases the person will behave in ways to push loved ones away because they would be “better off without me” and feel this will lessen the pain for their loved one when they are gone.
E – Estrangement
People contemplating suicide often pull away from friends, family and social activities that they normally enjoy. The individual often feels different than others and uncomfortable in groups. Also, the isolation serves as a means to distance him or her from the pain of ultimate separation.
R – Rage, Revenge, Risky & Restless
Some who are experiencing depression or suicidal thinking exhibit a spectrum of anger-related and/or risky behaviors including irritability, no sense-of-humor, short fuse, ranting, road rage, aggression, abusive or controlling behavior, driving too fast, having promiscuous/unprotected sex, abusing drugs or alcohol, and gambling. Suicide risk is elevated when the person expresses anger without regard to consequences to herself and others. In some cases, the person will try to get revenge on others through suicide or a combined homicide-suicide.
If You Notice, Speak Up and Ask!
When a person is experiencing some or many of these DANGER signs, it is very difficult for them to reach out and ask for help. However, they do want help. Not having anyone notice or reach out to them confirms their worst fears.
But, reaching out to the person can help put them on the path to recovery. Don’t be afraid to ask the person if they are thinking about suicide. Instead take the risk of asking an uncomfortable question.
Here are some tips from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline crisis center (1-800-273-TALK/8255):
- Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide.
- Be willing to listen. Allow expressions of feelings. Accept the feelings.
- Be non-judgmental. Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether feelings are good or bad. Don’t lecture on the value of life.
- Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.
- Don’t dare him or her to do it.
- Don’t act shocked. This will put distance between you.
- Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Seek support.
- Offer hope that alternatives are available but do not offer glib reassurance.
- Take action. Remove means, like weapons or pills.
- Get help from people or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.
Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services
Suicide Prevention Training Courses
Bob VandePol, MSW serves as Executive Director the Pine Rest Employee and Church Assistance Programs which provides Critical Incident Response services to business, organizations, schools and universities as well as faith communities. Active as a keynote speaker, Mr. VandePol has published and been quoted in business and clinical journals, co-authored book chapters addressing workplace response to tragedy and has been featured as subject matter expert in numerous video training series.