September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Recognizing the warning signs and providing resources to someone in need could save lives.
In 2020, suicide was the twelfth leading cause of death among Americans, according to the CDC. And for people aged 10 to 34, it was among the top three causes of death, the agency found.
In the United States, the highest suicide rates are among white males, according to Suicide Awareness Voices of Education. But, suicide rates also increased slightly among black people in 2020, compared to 2019.
“We want to dig deeper and understand who is most at risk because our prevention and intervention programs need to be sector-specific,” says Julie Goldstein Grumet, vice president of suicide prevention strategy and director of Zero Suicide. Institute at the Education Development Center.
Prevention programs continue to do the work and provide resources, but it’s often that the loved ones of people who are having suicidal thoughts will be able to notice the signs and intervene.
Warning signs of suicidal ideation
Indicators of suicidal ideation can range from verbal cues to behavioral changes, and some aren’t as obvious as you might think, says Goldstein Grumet.
Expressing suicidal thoughts
It won’t always be as clear as “I’m going to quit everything” or “I’m going to kill myself,” she says, but if a loved one says those words to you, then they should be taken seriously.
If someone you know is talking about suicide, either directly or indirectly, it’s important to talk about it, says Goldstein Grumet. Comments to pay particular attention to include:
- “People would be better off without me.”
- “I wish I were dead.”
- “I can not stand it anymore.”
- “I just can’t go on.”
- “You won’t have to worry about me anymore.”
Behavioral changes, including creating a plan
Any indication that someone is hatching a plan to harm themselves is also important, she says, especially if you come across searches in their web history for ways to kill themselves. Other indicators could be someone reading or writing about suicide, she adds.
Additionally, changes in behavior may suggest someone is having suicidal thoughts, Goldstein Grumet says, especially not wanting to do activities they previously enjoyed.
Changes like these are signs to look out for:
- No more wanting to hang out with other people
- stop sports
- Skipping school, get lower grades
- Having more trouble getting to work
- Drinking or using drugs
- sleep more or less sleep
“There are people who, when they are depressed, also think about suicide, but sometimes this depression is more like anxiety or irritability,” adds Goldstein Grumet. “So when we think about warning signs, we would also like to think about if we see things like that.”
How to help a loved one with suicidal thoughts
When you suspect someone is considering suicide, the next best step is to ask them directly if that’s what they mean by their statements or if they’re seriously considering suicide, says Goldstein Grumet.
“Asking directly doesn’t put the idea in someone’s head,” she says, “if they already have the idea or thoughts of suicide, being questioned in a genuine and empathetic way actually relieves their anxiety because now they can talk about it.”
You should never walk away from the situation without asking if the person really means what they’re saying, and it’s imperative to refrain from being judgmental, as that could make things worse, she notes.
“When we have this conversation, it needs to be empathetic and compassionate with our full attention while listening,” says Goldstein Grumet, “They just want to be listened to and know they’re heard.”
Avoid sayings like:
- “Why would you do that?”
- “Don’t do anything stupid or crazy.”
- “It’s not worth getting upset about.”
- “Things will get better.”
Aim for expressions such as:
- “Is suicide something you tell me you’re thinking about?”
- “I worry about you.”
- “I want to understand.”
- “I’m here, and I want to help you.”
- “You’re not alone.”
Try to get as many details as possible to determine if they really have a plan, adds Goldstein Grumet.
You want to know if they have access to ways to follow up or a chosen day to do so, as that can give you an idea of how imminent and high risk the situation is, she says.
The 988 crisis line and other resources
Once someone has opened up to you about how they feel, you can start presenting resources and start discussing the possibility of speaking with a professional.
Remember to always follow up after someone searches for these resources. It’s important to make sure they get better, plan to continue using preventative measures, and know you have their back, says Goldstein Grumet.
Here are some resources you can suggest:
- Call 988: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in the event of a suicidal crisis
- Talk to a mental health professional. (Ask if you can take them to their appointment if it’s more comfortable)
- Speak to your primary care physician or doctor
“Suicide prevention is everyone’s business and job,” says Goldstein Grumet. “It’s a public health issue. It takes community, religion, schools, workplaces, homes, neighborhoods, health care and everyone else to play a part in identifying people. at risk.”
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