How to help spot the signs of suicide

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. It’s free, confidential and available 24 hours a day.

With September being National Suicide Prevention Month, it may be a good time to raise awareness to help reduce the stigma around mental health issues. This could be an important step to lowering suicide rates over the coming years. And you might be concerned about someone you love, and are looking for ways to help.

Suicide is on the rise nationally. According to the most recent statistics, over 48,000 Americans died by suicide in 2018, making it the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Even though mental health awareness is increasing, the stigma surrounding suicide still exists. The fear of judgment or discrimination may prevent people suffering with a behavioral health issue from seeking the treatment they need. Without help or treatment, the feelings of hopelessness and loneliness may build, leading one to consider thoughts of taking their own life. 

For those with behavioral health disorders, like depression and bipolar disorder, there may be an increased risk of suicide. For example, research indicates the rate of suicide for those who have bipolar disorder is 10 to 30 times more than the overall population. 

Moreover, during the time of COVID-19, more people may be struggling with anxiety, mental illness and thoughts of suicide. A recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that twice as many people had reported serious consideration of suicide than those before the pandemic. 

That said, there are often warning signs that a person may be struggling to help you identify when intervention may be needed. Eight out of 10 people offer some sign they are considering suicide. People who talk about, threaten suicide or call a suicide crisis center are 30 times more likely than average to follow through with the act. Regardless of whether you know someone who’s currently struggling with mental health, it may be helpful to learn how to help spot some of the signs of suicide and understand how to intervene.

Talking about any of the following may be a warning sign a person is considering suicide and therefore may need urgent help.

  • Feeling hopeless or feeling like they don’t have a purpose in life
  • Feeling trapped or being in pain
  • Being a burden to others
  • Wanting to die or to kill oneself

If you notice a change in someone’s behavior in the following ways, this may also be a sign of a serious mental health issue that needs to be addressed.

  • An increase in the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Anxious, agitated or reckless behavior
  • Abnormal sleeping, either too much or too little
  • Withdrawal from society
  • Rage or a seeking of revenge
  • Extreme mood swings

Research shows that even talking candidly with or just being there for a person who’s in a dark mental state may help reduce suicidal thoughts. If a support system or person steps in early on, it may ultimately help save a life.

Consider these tips on how you can start a conversation with them:

  • Show that you’re concerned in a way that is not confrontational or judgmental. Let them know that you care about them and you’re concerned about recent changes you’ve noticed in their mood or behavior.
  • Keep questions simple. Ask how they’re doing, what they’re feeling and how you can help provide support. 
  • Suggest reaching out to a local recovery support resource. Ask if they have thought about seeking support from a professional trained to help with these types of issues. A growing number of mental health care providers offer virtual visits that can help make it easier for people to access mental health care when they need it.
  • After your initial conversation, remain engaged with them and check in regularly. Having consistent support from family and friends may help make a huge difference in people’s well-being. Encourage your friend or loved one to stay in touch and even expand social interactions.
  • Take action if the individual is not receptive to your help and displays intent to kill themselves. If someone is threatening to hurt themselves, searching for ways to take their life or consistently talking, writing or posting about death and suicide in a way that seems out of character, you should take action and call 9-1-1. Even though you may worry about the individual becoming angry with you, it can be the difference between life and death. That’s worth calling 9-1-1 for.

By taking these steps to be there for someone who is struggling, you may be able to play a part in helping to save their life.