Suicide rates are rising in the U.S., yet suicide is commonly misunderstood. When we learn about famous or successful people who have taken their own lives – like Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade – our first thought is to ask, “why?” The truth is that everyone is fighting their own inner thoughts and fears, no matter how they are presenting themselves to the world or how well-regarded they are by others. Suicide is a significant issue for youth and young adults. In 2018, suicide was the 10th-leading cause of death in the U.S.; yet for individuals ages 10-34 years old, it was the second leading cause of death. Empowering yourself to know how and when to talk about suicide is the first step to helping others who are struggling with their thoughts. What we say – and what we don’t say – when talking about suicide makes a difference.
Drop the “C” Word
Experts advise it’s time to stop using the phrase “commit suicide,” as it implies the person who died did so in a criminal way or committed a sin. Instead, try using more objective language, like “died by suicide,” “took their own life” or “ended their life.”
Don’t Avoid Talking About Suicide
Many people think asking someone if they are suicidal will encourage them to attempt suicide. The opposite is true: asking someone about their feelings opens a line of critical communication. The first step to helping someone who has thoughts of suicide is to get them to express their feelings and to talk about their fears. If someone has suicidal thoughts, it doesn’t mean they are insane or mentally ill. However, they do need professional counseling to learn how to confront and manage their own thoughts and emotions. Be sensitive, but ask direct questions when starting a conversation:
- Are you thinking about dying?
- Are you thinking about hurting yourself?
- Are you thinking about suicide?
- Do you ever feel like just giving up?
- Do you have access to weapons or things that can be used as weapons to harm yourself?
- Have you ever thought about suicide before, or tried to harm yourself before?
- Have you thought about how or when you'd do it?
- How are you coping with what's been happening in your life?
People Can Be Helped
Suicides can be prevented. Just because someone is having thoughts of suicide doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference. In an immediate crisis, make sure to stay with the person. Encourage them to talk and help them build a plan for the future. Help them connect to the counseling they need. They won’t resent you for stepping in; in fact, experts say being able to share their emotional burden with someone else often makes a significant difference.
- Encourage the person to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255).
When someone is contemplating suicide, they are often torn between a desire to live and a desire to end their life. Being proactive in helping someone can strengthen their desire to live. If someone has attempted suicide, don’t leave them alone. Find a way to get them to the nearest hospital emergency room as soon as possible – either by calling 911 or by taking them yourself. Tell a family member or friend right away.
Watch for Warning Signs
While suicides or suicide attempts may catch friends and loved ones by surprise, people considering taking their own lives often exhibit warning signs that may not be recognized by those around them. Be sure to watch for warning signs to know when to start a conversation and seek help:
- Substance use
- A recent suicide or death of someone close
- Prior suicide attempts
- Obsession with death or expressing suicidal thoughts
- Making final arrangements or giving away possessions
- Sleep pattern changes
- Extreme, sudden changes in eating habits or change in weight
- Withdrawal from group activities or from friends or family
- Personality changes: outbursts of anger, impulsive behavior, nervousness, lack of caring about behavior or health
- Unexplained crying or irritability
- Feeling unworthy or like a failure
- No interest in the future
If someone who has been showing these warning signs is suddenly improved, it may mean they have decided to attempt suicide as a way of escaping their pain. It’s important to keep communication open even if someone appears to be doing better. More from MIBluesPerspectives.com: