Knowing the signs of suicide … and the misconceptions
About the Author
Betsy Glass, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker at Barton Behavioral Health. She provides counseling and therapeutic services for patients experiencing mild to moderate mental or behavioral health issues. Find more support and resources in Barton’s Health and Wellness Directory at bartonhealth.org/wellness directory.
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Throughout the month, Barton Health has partnered with local behavioral health providers and experts to share research and insight on suicide, a topic that can be hard to discuss.
Suicide is a public health issue that impacts everyone. For some of us, we are reminded of suicide daily. Yet, it is important to know that suicide can be prevented.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is one of the top 10 causes of death in the United States. The leading reason for suicide is unmanaged depression or a mood disorder. Considering that 20 to 25 percent of Americans are affected by depression, it is important to know the signs that may help save someone’s life.
While symptoms of depression typically manifest and peak during the 20s, it is not uncommon to experience a first depressive episode later in life. Major life changing events and other unexpected tragedies can also cause helplessness and hopelessness, which can lead to suicide.
The first step in preventing suicide is recognizing when you or someone you love may be at risk of depression. Although our experiences differ, possible risk factors include:
Sad mood most days
Loss of interest or pleasure in most activities
Changes in appetite and weight loss
Low energy, lethargy, and fatigue
Too much or too little sleep
Low self-esteem and worthlessness
Trouble concentrating and making decisions
Irritability and agitation
Slower movements and speech
Reoccurring thoughts about death or suicide
Unmanaged or untreated depression increases the risk of self-harm and suicide. Signs that you or a loved one may be experiencing a sense of hopelessness or helplessness:
Feeling desperate or stuck
Frequently irritable or angry
Sudden or rapid mood changes
Reckless or apathetic behavior
Increased drug or alcohol use
Poor self-care and hygiene
Not following a treatment plan or attending appointments
Lacking meaning or purpose in life
Withdrawal and isolation
Giving away possessions and making final plans
Talking about wanting to die and developing a plan
If you recognize these symptoms, it is important to understand some common misconceptions about depression. This helps you or a loved one access the treatment needed with less stigma. Depression is not:
Overreacting or being overly emotional
Something that you just “get over”
Laziness or a choice
A weakness or character flaw
All in your head
In no particular order, the following are possible treatment interventions for preventing the act of self-harm and suicide:
Establish regular care with a primary care provider or physician
Request a medication evaluation by a psychiatrist
Participate in psychotherapy with a trained behavioral health professional
Follow and actively participate in a treatment plan
Build a supportive family and social network
Actively maintain a sense of purpose and meaning in life
Keep the brain active by learning something new
Make time to play and move the body
It is important to communicate that suicide can be prevented. It requires involvement from family, friends, the community, and the public health system.
If you recognize that you or someone you love is in distress, offer compassion, encouragement, and resources for seeking support. Attend a suicide prevention training or consider free or low-cost community workshops, including Mental Health First Aid and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training.
If you or a loved one is experiencing a mental or behavioral health emergency, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. You can also dial 911 and request a behavioral health welfare check or go to the local hospital’s emergency department.
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