COMMUNITY. Why should all types of community members learn about warning signs? Having previously volunteered for crisis hotlines I am very familiar with risk assessment and pinpointing warning signs in a conversation. However, the fact they are calling a crisis hotline already tells me that they (or people they care for) are in a state of…well…crisis. Unfortunately, of those who call a crisis hotline 30% will hang up as soon as they hear a stranger’s voice on the other end. Although the act of suicide can sometimes be impulsive, thoughts of suicide almost always come along earlier and potential plans may be considered. It is extremely important to know that most suicidal people communicate their intent sometime during the week preceding their attempt. Furthermore, even if they are not directly or indirectly vocal about their suicidal thoughts, their behavior or handling of situations can often speak just as loud. Who do you think will see these warning signs first, a hotline volunteer or someone closer to them that they see on a regular basis? They are more likely to say something to a co-worker, sibling, or friend… and that entrusted person is in the perfect position to have a caring conversation to express concern.
SITUATIONS. As a member of someone’s community, family, or friend group you often learn about troubling life situations. Obviously, situations themselves do not make someone to become suicidal, but they can often cause a heightened risk. Regardless of warning signs or not, after any life changing situation your community deserves to hear you care. Some situations that have been known to cause a heightened risk for struggle or suicidal thoughts include:
- Disconnection from community (fired from work, expelled from school, ostracized from family)
- An unwanted or uncontrolled move
- Death of a loved one, especially if the death was by suicide
- Major break ups, separations, or divorces
- Impending punishment or incarceration
- Loss of finances or security
- Diagnosis of terminal illness or mental illness
WARNING SIGNS. Warning signs reveal themselves in different forms. The more signs present allow us to know how serious the risk is for suicidal thoughts, plans, or actions.
WORDS. Words may be spoken in conversation (sometimes as a response to discussing current life struggles) or in text format through public social networks or private messaging. Both direct and indirect statements should be taken seriously. Even if the person doesn’t use the word suicide it probably feels clear to them what they mean.
- “Maybe I should just kill myself.”
- “I’m think I’ll just make it all go away.”
- “I’m going to commit suicide.”
- “I just wish I could go to sleep and never wake up.”
- “No one will miss me and they’ll be better off without me.”
- Statements expressing feelings of hopelessness, loneliness, or burdensomeness
ACTIONS. Behavioral changes are common when someone is struggling with mental health or having thoughts of suicide.
- Unusually withdrawn from social situations (especially if they normally are social)
- Unexplained or uncharacteristic displays of anger or aggression
- Excessive use of alcohol or drugs, especially if addiction has previously been an issue
- Giving away things they value or saying if they ever die they want you to have (item)
- Seeking out a gun or saving up pills
- Reckless behavior
- A sudden shift to happiness without explanation after a period of depression
As mentioned before the more warning signs present the higher the need for concern and positive action. We will talk further this week on how to engage in such conversations, but in simple terms the key is to be caring and non-judgmental. Express your concerns for them as well as your commitment to connecting them to further help. More on the resource page.
If you or someone you know are currently feeling suicidal please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or 911 in an emergency.
If you want to learn more about spotting warning signs and starting conversations check out our growing resource page.