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How to Support People Who Have Suicidal Thoughts

How to Support People Who Have Suicidal Thoughts

No one wants to think about someone they love taking their own life. Unfortunately, more than 700,000 people kill themselves each year, and having difficult, uncomfortable conversations is a necessary first step in preventing other people from being part of that number. At Carolina Dunes in Leland, North Carolina, we encourage family and friends to watch for signs of suicidal thoughts and connect their loved ones to support right away if there is reason for concern.

Risk Factors for Adults

Anyone can develop suicidal ideation, but there is typically more risk of an attempt among people who fall into the categories below:

  • History of prior attempts.
    • Alcohol or drug misuse or family history of substance use disorders.
    • Personal or family history of mental health concerns, which could be diagnosed or undiagnosed. Some people also develop or have an increase in suicidal thoughts when starting antidepressant medications or increasing dosages, particularly if they are under age 25.
    • Chronic or terminal medical conditions that cause pain or emotional suffering.
  • Access to tools they could use to end their life.
  • Have been experiencing a stressful life event:
    • Loss of a loved one
    • Military service
    • Financial troubles
    • Legal issues
    • End of an important relationship
    • Homelessness
    • Facing hostility or lack of support because of being part of the LGBT community

Risk Factors for Children and Adolescents

While some of the risk factors above also apply to minors, the following scenarios could also raise their risk of an attempt:

    • Conflict with close friends or family members
    • History of sexual or physical abuse
    • Receiving bad news:
      • Unexpected pregnancy 
      • Contracting a sexually transmitted infection
      • Learning of someone else’s suicide attempt or a peer dying by suicide
    • Experiencing bullying
  • Questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity

Signs of Suicidal Thoughts

After a person has died by suicide, it is not uncommon for family and friends to say that they had no idea that the person was considering ending their life. However, most people considering suicide display signs that loved ones can easily miss, which could include:

  • Statements that indicate a suicidal mindset 
      • Wishing they were dead 
      • Saying others would be better off without them 
      • Being preoccupied with death, dying, or violence
      • Saying they should kill themselves
  • Expressing thoughts of hopelessness
      • “I am trapped.”
      • “Nothing matters.”
      • “It’s never going to get better.”
  • Taking more risks
      • Increased drinking or drug use
      • Reckless driving
  • Changes in routine
      • Eating more or less than usual
      • Sleeping more or less or at different times than before
      • Withdrawing from their usual social interactions
  • Trying to wrap up their affairs
      • Giving away cherished possessions
      • Saying goodbye as though they are never going to see people again 
      • Taking steps to try to make things easier on loved ones after their death
  • Collecting items they would use to end their life
    • Stockpiling medications
    • Buying a gun and ammunition
    • Gathering a rope and ladder

How You Can Help

If you are concerned that a loved one might be considering suicide, the most helpful thing you can do is ask. It can be very uncomfortable to initiate a discussion about suicide, and many people worry that they will give people the idea to kill themselves if they were not already thinking about doing so. However, there does not seem to be any evidence that this happens–and it can be a huge relief for people who are feeling suicidal to be given an opening to talk about their feelings. 

If your friend or family member shares concerning information, listen without judgment and reassure them that you care about them and want to help. These are the things you need to ask if you are worried that your loved one is thinking of ending their life:

  • Are they considering ending their life? If so, what happened that led them to feel this way?
  • Do they have a plan for how they would kill themselves? A plan signals more than just fleeting thoughts of suicide and may indicate a higher level of risk.
  • Do they have access to the items they plan to use? 
  • Are they willing and able to make a plan to stay safe? Depending on their situations, any of the steps below might be helpful:
  • If they are not willing or able to do the things that would be needed to keep them safe and are intent on ending their life, you need to call 911 or take them to the nearest emergency room immediately. Hospitalization may be necessary to save your loved one’s life.

After you have connected your loved one to resources for their mental health, follow up to see how they are doing and remind them that you care about them and want to support them. If they have suicidal thoughts in the future, you want them to know that you are a safe person to reach out to again. If you have additional questions about protecting your loved ones from suicide, Carolina Dunes Behavioral Health is here to help.

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