Nationwide, suicide rates have increased by 25 percent since 1999 and here in Washoe County, the rate is twice the national average. How to spot the signs and symptoms and where you can go for help.
Suicide is a difficult topic to talk about but it’s an important one. And though many feel suicides happen without warning, Kristen Davis-Coelho, PhD, administrator of the newly established Stacie Mathewson Behavioral Health & Addiction Institute at Renown, says more than 80 percent of people who commit suicide gave clear warnings beforehand. That’s why it’s so important to watch for the signs and symptoms and know where to turn for help.
First, if someone is experiencing suicidal thoughts, where should they turn for help?
If an individual feels they cannot keep themselves safe, they can call 911 or go to the emergency room. There are also a number of local and national crisis center hotlines, including:
- Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-TALK (8255)
- De Prevencion del Suicido: 1-888-628-9454
- Crisis Call Center Text line: text “LISTEN” to 839863
- Crisis Call Center 775-784-8090
- Mobile Crisis Response Team Hotline 775-688-1670
- National Hopeline Network 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433)
What are the signs and symptoms you may see in a loved one who is contemplating suicide? How do the symptoms differ in children versus adults?
Warning signs for suicide include talking about suicide or wanting to die; a sense of hopelessness, worthlessness or feeling trapped in an unbearable situation; increasing use of alcohol or drugs; talking about revenge or making other people sorry; agitation or acting recklessly; and withdrawing or feeling isolated. These same warning signs can also be present in children and teens who are thinking about suicide. Significant changes in behavior; changes in social activities; experiencing bullying, cyberbullying, or loss of friends; or unusual anger or hostility can also be warning signs for children and teens.
If you suspect a loved one is contemplating suicide, how can you help?
The most important thing is to talk with them about it directly. Just say, “I know you’ve been really sad/overwhelmed/worried lately. Have you had any thoughts about killing yourself?” Sometimes people worry that if they ask about suicide it will plant the idea in the person’s head. But this is a myth. Asking about suicide doesn’t give them the idea; it gives them permission to actually talk about these thoughts and bring them out into the open.
One of the most effective actions people can take to help prevent suicide is called “restricting access to lethal means.” Basically, this means making it harder for the person who is having suicidal thoughts to kill themselves in an impulsive moment. Examples would be keeping a person’s firearms for them or using trigger locks, or making sure there’s only a small amount of any needed medication in the cupboard at one time. Could the person go to the store and buy enough medication to attempt suicide? Yes. But getting rid of easy access can prevent them from killing themselves in the heat of the moment, or while they’re not thinking straight because they’re intoxicated or overwhelmed. It’s important to note that this is a strategy a person who’s having suicidal thoughts can use to keep themselves safe, as well.
What are some common misconceptions about suicide?
One misconception is that only people with serious depression commit suicide. The fact is that many factors can contribute to suicide, including anxiety, alcohol or substance abuse, chronic pain, severe insomnia, or experiencing many losses and stressful life events.
Another misconception is that most suicides happen without warning. In fact, more than 80 percent of people who commit suicide gave clear warnings beforehand, such as talking about killing themselves or wishing they wouldn’t wake up, giving away possessions or arranging their affairs, or indicating that others won’t have to worry about them soon. A related myth is people who talk about killing themselves are just seeking attention. But more than 70 percent of people who threaten suicide go on to make an attempt or complete suicide.
Another thing people should understand about suicide is that ambivalence is common. A person may be overwhelmed by their emotional pain, feel they can’t cope anymore, or that others would be better off without them. But at the same time, the person may recognize the negative impact their suicide would have on others, or want to find a solution to their struggles so they don’t feel the desire to kill themselves anymore. Other people may assume that this ambivalence means that the person isn’t “really” suicidal. But that’s not true. Having mixed feelings doesn’t mean a person isn’t at risk for killing themselves.
Is there hope for someone contemplating about suicide?
Yes, absolutely. Treatment can be very effective in helping people address both the suicidal thoughts, and the factors that lead to these thoughts. Often, suicide feels like a final coping strategy when all the other ones have failed. But with therapy and/or medication treatment a person can develop new ways of coping, find their strengths, and create a sense of hope for the future again.