What Can I Do to Prevent Suicide? Part 1

The 3 “Rs” of Suicide Prevention – Part 1

While suicide is a serious mental health problem that ultimately needs to be addressed by mental health professionals, it is not likely that a mental health professional is going to be the first one to come in contact with a person who is considering suicide.  You are.  But would you know what to do?  One of the most common laments of family members and colleagues of someone who completes a suicide is that they “should have seen it coming,” and “I wish I could have helped.”  We’re publishing this brief series called “The 3 ‘Rs’ of Suicide Prevention” for just that reason.  Here are some essential things to know so that you may be more effective in helping someone with suicidal thoughts.

The first of the 3 “Rs” is Recognize.  You should be able to recognize the risk factors, warning signs, and possible trigger events that often lead people to consider suicide as an option for ending their pain.  Here are a few:

Risk factors:

  • Recent diagnosis of a mood disorder such as depression or anxiety
  • Family history of some form of mental illness
  • Family history of suicide (and in the emergency services world, fellow first responders count as family!)

If the individual expresses a great deal of anger or describes aggressive behaviors, has become isolated or withdrawn or has had a recent psychiatric hospital stay, that is an indication of a greater risk.  If the individual describes himself or herself as being a burden to others, feels trapped, or believes there is no reason to live, there is an increased risk of a suicide attempt.

Warning signs:

  • Helplessness: “I am feeling this pain, and I can’t make it go away.”
  • Hopelessness: “No matter what I’ve tried, or who has tried to help me, I don’t believe tomorrow is going to be any better than today.”
  • Worthlessness: “I used to feel like my life mattered, and what I did mattered.  I just don’t feel that way anymore.”

Has this person been talking or writing about death and/or suicide recently?  Even if a person makes vague statements about suicide, remember it is a myth that those who talk about suicide never actually do it, and this is a warning sign.  What about changes in personality, or poor performance at work?  Other common warning signs include getting affairs in order by writing a will, giving possessions away, calling someone “out of the blue,” seemingly to say goodbye.  And a very important warning sign is that the person has suddenly gone from very sad to suddenly very content and peaceful.  This is usually an indication that the decision has been made.

Possible trigger events:

  • Recent death of a spouse or child
  • Recent divorce, separation, child custody issues
  • Recent diagnosis of a serious medical condition or even terminal illness

If something has happened recently that has caused this individual to feel shame, guilt, or humiliation, these may trigger an increase in suicidal thoughts.  Also, look for signs of recent legal or financial problems as this will often precipitate thoughts of suicide as a means to escape the consequences of such things. 

In Part 2, we will talk about how to respond to someone who is expressing the intention to die by suicide.

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts yourself, or you are concerned about a loved one, reach out to us at m.me/callforbackup.org and one of our peer specialists can point you in the right direction for help.

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