You may know someone struggling with suicidal thoughts and not know how to approach them or even if you should. Here are a few signs to look for and tips for what you can do to prevent suicide.
Suicide is a preventable serious health issue that impacts many of us. In fact, data reported last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted that suicide rates in Wisconsin rose 25.8 percent from 1999 to 2016. Here are a few signs to look for and tips for what you can do to prevent suicide and save a life.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Suicide risk factors are based in very human experiences that all of us have lived though and can understand and empathize with. The National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) website lists 12 signs or symptoms that may indicate someone is thinking about suicide:
- Feeling like a burden
- Being isolated
- Increased anxiety
- Feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Increased substance use
- Looking for a way to access lethal means
- Increased anger or rage
- Extreme mood swings
- Expressing hopelessness
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Talking or posting about wanting to die
- Making plans for suicide
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Ask: Talk about their stresses in life. Don’t try to fix, or tell them how to feel, just listen. Ask them “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” Research shows that asking about suicidal thoughts does not increase risk of or thoughts of suicide.
Keep them safe: Reduce the person’s access to highly lethal items, means, or places. This has been shown to reduce risk and save lives. It’s appropriate to ask if they have a plan on how to hurt or kill themselves.
Be there: Be present. Listen and validate. Studies suggest that acknowledging and talking about suicide reduces suicidal thoughts. Don’t judge, don’t tell; listen, validate and empathize.
Help them connect: Call the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division (BHD) crisis line at 414-257-7222. Staff is available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Help is also available at the BHD crisis resource centers at 5409 W. Villard St. or 2057 S. 14th St. Encourage individuals to also reach out family, friends, a spiritual advisor or mental health professional.
Follow up: Stay connected; being in touch after a crisis has been shown to reduce suicide. Part of our humanity is having connections to those around us.
While the issue of suicide can seem emotionally overwhelming or beyond what one person can do, studies show that by connecting with one another, we can have a lifesaving impact on people considering suicide.
Editor’s note: John Schneider, MD, FAPA is the Chief Medical Officer for the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division, is an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine for the Medical College of Wisconsin and is President-Elect of the Wisconsin Psychiatric Association.