Living Well - WMHS Blog

Suicide Prevention

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is just one organization among many dedicated to preventing suicide by promoting awareness of an often taboo topic during the month of September. NAMI indicates that 41,000 people die by suicide in the United States each year. Suicide affects men, women, and children as well as people of all ethnic backgrounds and socio-economic groups.

Untreated mental health issues are a leading cause of suicide, which is why this awareness event is so crucial. People who feel deeply depressed often think they are the only one with such thoughts and that they’re a burden to people around them. Knowing that help is available and that the depressed and suicidal thoughts don’t reflect reality is essential to reducing this heartbreaking epidemic.

Risk Factors and Warning Signs of Suicide

One of the most devastating things for the families and friends of a suicide victim to deal with is that they never saw it coming. They feel guilty because they didn’t see any warning signs or realize that their loved one was at risk of attempting or completing suicide. According to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, most suicidal people have both risk factors and warning signs.

The goal of Suicide Prevention Month is to help people understand risk factors and warning signs so they can potentially intervene and convince their loved one to get help. The campaign also hopes to reach out to suicidal people themselves to show them that depression and suicidal thoughts are common but don’t have to end in suicide. If you’re concerned about someone you love, look for these common risk factors associated with suicide:

  • A known mental health disorder such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia
  • History that includes abuse or trauma
  • Obvious abuse of alcohol or drugs
  • The person has expressed a feeling of hopelessness
  • Family history of suicide or a previous suicide attempt
  • Recent job loss or financial stress
  • Major physical illness that is chronic or eventually fatal in nature
  • Recent end of an important relationship
  • Several people in the person’s social circle have recently attempted or completed suicide
  • Lack of access to quality healthcare, including mental health services

Keep in mind that a person may have no known risk factors and still struggle with suicidal ideation. If you notice any of the behavior listed below, consider it a warning sign. This is especially true when the behavior is new or very out of character for the person or if it seems related to a recent event or loss. The most common suicide warning signs include:

  • Expressing the thought that he or she is a burden to others
  • Disclosing that he or she is thinking of suicide or wishes to die
  • Behaving in a reckless manner as well as showing increased anxiety and agitation
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Purchasing a gun or researching ways to kill themselves online
  • Stating that he or she feels trapped with physical or emotional pain that has become unbearable
  • Severe mood swings
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Isolating themselves and withdrawing from others
  • Expressing rage or a desire to get even with others

What You Can Do if You Think Someone is Suicidal

When it comes to suicide, it’s better to err on the side of caution than live with regrets. Don’t hesitate to call 9-1-1 immediately if someone you know express the desire to kill themselves. Here are some other things you can do to help:

  • Don’t argue with the person about the morality of suicide
  • Offer specific ways you can help such as calling the person’s therapist
  • Don’t make threats or raise your voice to the person
  • If your friend or family member appears to be hallucinating, respond with empathy but don’t get into a discussion about whether the delusions are real
  • Remove guns, knives, belts or other hanging devices, stockpiles of pills, or anything else you think the person might use to attempt suicide
  • Don’t be afraid to ask the person directly if he or she is thinking about suicide
  • Try not to show your own nervousness or fear about the situation

If you feel like the situation is more than you can handle, be sure to reach out for help yourself. You can contact the National Suicide Prevention Helpline at 1-800-273-8255. They have trained counselors on staff to speak to the suicidal person and his or her concerned friends and family members 24 hours a day. It’s also a good idea to have a crisis plan, especially if your loved one has attempted suicide in the past. The plan should include the following:

  • Telephone numbers of the person’s doctor, therapist, psychiatrist, and other healthcare providers
  • Contact information for friends or family members who could be helpful in a crisis
  • Local crisis line phone number and the Suicide Prevention Helpline phone number listed above
  • Drug abuse or suicide attempt history, if applicable
  • Any current physical or mental health diagnoses
  • List of known triggers and actions that have helped get through a suicidal crisis in the past

At Western Maryland Health System (WMHS), we understand these are heavy responsibilities. Don’t forget to take care of yourself at this time as well.

WMHS Suicide Walk

WMHS will be sponsoring Never Forgotten: Suicide Prevention & Memorial Walk on September 30th for anyone affected by suicide.