By DR. FRED HALL, LPC
QUESTION: I have a friend who said he is having suicidal thoughts. How do I help?
ANSWER: Thanks for your question, reader. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America. Nearly every 11 minutes, someone dies from suicide. With that in mind, recognizing the seriousness of suicide and non-suicidal self-injury is so important for families and individuals.
Some common warning signs for suicide
Being sad, emotional, or moody. Depression is a major risk factor for suicide. With long periods of sadness or mood swings, a person may be more serious about considering suicide. Sudden calmness after a prolonged period of moodiness may also be an indicator.
Withdrawal from people, places and things that normally bring enjoyment. Isolation and a lack of pleasure from things that usually are enjoyable is a warning sign.
Changes to personality, appearance, sleep, and eating habits. When a person is actively deciding to end their life, they lose normally held inhibitions and social mores. They have little interest in their appearance or general care for themselves. This could be evidenced by a lack of sleep or too much sleep, a lack of eating or too much eating.
Recent trauma or a life crisis, such as the death of a loved one or pet, financial crisis, loss of a job, divorce or breakup, or diagnosis of a major illness could be a trigger.
Being in a deep state of despair. When assessing suicidality, always question feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness. Oftentimes people considering self-harm report having “nothing to live for,” “being a burden to others,” or “feeling trapped.”
Not everyone who demonstrates or says these things is considering suicide. Not everyone who says they are considering suicide will attempt it, nor will everyone who is considering suicide show these signs or speak about it. Therefore, we take every threat of suicide seriously.
Ask the person directly if they are thinking about or considering suicide. If they’re not, refer them to a person or agency that can help them deal with the issues that seem troublesome to them. If they are thinking about suicide or even starting to use suggestive language of suicide (whether you believe them to be serious or not), get them help ASAP.
Develop a personal or family crisis plan. You should have the number to a local crisis or suicide hotline, call 911, be familiar with local hospital protocols, consult with your medical professional, enlist the help of a therapist, seek counsel and prayer from a pastor or minister, and alert necessary others. Lastly, creating a supportive and accountable environment will help set realistic boundaries and guidelines for our friends and loved ones. If they are deeply hurting, your plan will get them the timely help they need to start healing.
Those who matter and are involved with the person who talks of suicide must be notified each and every time suicide is mentioned. Let the person who speaks of suicide know that you will take any talk or gesture of suicide seriously, because you love them and want them to heal. Stand strong, set boundaries, take the threat seriously, enact your crisis response plan, follow up, let key people know, and love and support the person. You can do this.
Dr. Fred Hall is a licensed professional counselor (LPC), supervisor, life and leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, couples, families and organizations in training, speaking, consulting and clinical practice. He does clinical work at Cornerstone Counseling in Jackson.