If we learn to talk about suicide in a trustworthy and compassionate way, we can support without stigma. Here are some tips on how to recognize the signs of suicidal ideation.
Suicidal ideation is a terrifying thing to experience. It also holds so much stigma: a person can often think “if I mention it to someone, will they just take me to the hospital and put me in psych? Is this just me seeking attention?”
Suicidal ideation encompasses a Kilimanjaro-sized range of complications, wishes, and preoccupations with death and suicide. For some, these thoughts lead to planning, and then lead to attempts on one’s own life. It’s the 10th leading cause of death. 12 million Americans seriously thought about attempting suicide just in 2019.
(And remember that’s only the reported figure. The actual number is likely much higher.)
The risk factors for suicidal ideation are all-encompassing.
There isn’t just one single reason why someone experiences suicidal ideation. There isn’t any single reason why some people attempt suicide and why others don’t. For one person, it could be an undiagnosed mental illness. For another person, it could be a medication change. Nevertheless, some of the most common risk factors may include:
- Traumatic or difficult life events such as physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.
- Upsetting events such as the loss of a loved one, the end of a romantic relationship or friendship, or a pet.
- Drug or alcohol abuse.
- Isolation from others.
- Struggling with a co-occurring mental health condition, such as depression or bipolar disorder
- Financial stress
- Health issues
We can all experience suicidal thoughts at any point in our lives, so knowing the signs of suicidal ideation can help protect ourselves and our loved ones.
The warning signs aren’t always what you think.
Knowing these signs can help be aware of suicidal thoughts and plans — both within ourselves as well as others. If we notice them in ourselves, we can seek help through trained clinicians. If we notice them in our friends or families, we can open up communication and offer whatever support they need. Signs to look out for might include:
- Increasing anxiety or irritability.
- Becoming more outwardly confrontational.
- Isolating oneself from friends or family members.
- Experiencing intense mood swings.
- Reckless actions.
- Sleeping too much or too little.
- Having increased difficulty with everyday responsibilities like your job, school, finances, or relationships.
- Saying negative things about oneself or idealizing death.
- Threatening to hurt or kill oneself.
- Discussing life insurance policies (sounding like they’re putting one’s affairs in order).
- Talking calmly about the end of their life, about how nothing will matter when they’re gone.
- Preparing to end one’s life by giving personal belongings away or saying goodbye.
How to Offer Support
You can’t force someone to get help. But you can offer support and let them know that you’re there for them. You can empathize with them and try to understand their thoughts. Other ways to support someone include:
- Making sure to be non-judgemental if they do decide to talk to you.
- Listen actively.
- Ask if they’ve ever felt like this before.
- Reassure them that their feelings will not last forever.
- Help them focus on the present situation rather than the future.
- Assist them in finding a trained therapist or psychiatrist.
- If the situation is exacerbated by co-existing conditions, encourage them to seek potential treatment centers that specialize in both.
What Not To Do
Suicide is still a touchy subject, and yes – it does require kid gloves. Remember – this isn’t about you, or your opinion on their actions. It is important to avoid accusing or demeaning loved ones’ feelings. Now is not the time to force your own opinions on them, but rather to reinforce that they are not alone and loved and valued.
If you say something to make them feel rejected, belittled, or alone, this may exacerbate their thoughts. Stay clear of saying things like, “stop this nonsense,” or, “You’ll get over this.” Don’t change the subject if they come to you with their thoughts, and it is important not to tell them that what they are feeling is silly or wrong. Don’t laugh at them — even if this is your way of showing that you’re nervous. Don’t make them feel as though they’re following a pattern, either – a pattern of failure can be a dangerous thing for a person considering suicide to think about.
Suicide Prevention Resources
The best thing that we can do is become informed and make sure that resources are easily accessible for all who are in need. here are so many resources out there that provide information, training, and hotlines for crisis situations. Having immediate access to them is essential, and so here is a list of resources that do just that.
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255
- The Trevor Project Crisis Line – Get started by texting ‘START’ to 678-678
- Veterans Crisis Line – 1-800-273-8255
- The Crisis Text Line – Text START to 741-741 about any type of crisis 24/7.
Online Support Resources
IMAlive: A non-profit, worldwide 24/7, anonymous chatline to help anyone in crisis via instant messaging.
SAVE: An advocacy organization that provides an array of resources to support suicide awareness and prevention.
Stop A Suicide Today: This is a helpful website that provides suicide prevention information for those experiencing suicidal thoughts. It can also help their friends and family.
The Suicide Prevention Resource Center: As their name implies, this is a hub for suicide prevention and mental health resources with multiple guides and links to further resources.
Darkness to Light: A child abuse prevention organization that aims to prevent the sexual abuse of children and provide help and support to those who have suffered or are currently suffering from this type of abuse. Call 866-367-5444 or Text LIGHT to 741741.
Safe Horizon: A non-profit organization that provides help and guidance for victims of sexual assault and trauma. They provide resources for those who have suffered from domestic abuse, child abuse, rape or sexual assault, human trafficking, stalking, and more.
Live Another Day: Features a comprehensive guide with information and resources that can assist people struggling with suicidal ideation to get the help they need.
Trans Lifeline: A nonprofit organization that is created by and for the transgender community, providing crisis intervention hotlines, staffed by transgender individuals, available in the United States and Canada.
SAMHSA’s Treatment Locator: National treatment locator that lists SAMHSA-approved mental health and addiction treatment centers.
The Trevor Project: A nationwide organization that provides a 24-hour phone hotline, as well as 24-hour webchat and text options, for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth.
- The TrevorLifeline can be reached at 1-866-488-7386.
- TrevorChat can be found at https://www.thetrevorproject.org/get-help-now/
- TrevorText can be reached by texting START to 678-678
If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these problems we have discussed, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional.
At Sphere Health, we’re all about help that really helps. If you think a friend or family member might benefit from these tips, please share this article with them! Every little bit helps and we’re certain they’ll appreciate it. For more information about suicide prevention, visit the links above, or our website at www.asksphere.co.
Ashley Smithers is Chief Marketing Officer at Sphere Health, a creative by trade and nature, and a mental health advocate who is driven to make prevention and treatment resources accessible to as many people as possible. She’s always looking to connect with like-minded advocates on Linkedin, Twitter, and Clubhouse.