Suicide isn’t always somebody else’s problem. You may know an individual who has attempted to kill him or herself – and has perhaps succeeded – or you may have struggled with suicidal thoughts yourself.
It’s extremely important to be aware of the warning signs of suicide, as well as what to do if you’re confronted with someone who displays these signs.
Those with mental illness and/or alcohol abuse have a higher risk of suicide. Many feel that suicide offers the only “hope” they have of ending the pain and hopelessness they experience on daily basis. Warning signs of suicide include:
If these warning signs apply to you or someone you know, get help as soon as possible, particularly if the behavior is new or has increased recently.
Suicide does not discriminate. People of all genders, ages, and ethnicities can be at risk. Suicidal behavior is complex, and there is no single cause. Many different factors contribute to someone making a suicide attempt. But people most at risk tend to share specific characteristics. The main risk factors for suicide are:
Many people have some of these risk factors but do not attempt suicide. It is important to note that suicide is not a normal response to stress. Suicidal thoughts or actions are a sign of extreme distress, not a harmless bid for attention, and should not be ignored.
Often family and friends are the first to recognize the warning signs. Don’t be afraid to address the issue of suicide with the person in a manner that is supportive and non-judgmental. Evidence shows that raising the issue of suicide does not encourage suicide, but rather assists in stopping it. Offer your help, especially if you think an attempt is imminent. Be prepared to act quickly by contacting an emergency crisis-counseling center, removing deadly weapons or other means of self-harm and staying with the individual until you can be certain that he or she is safe.
Mental Health First Aid is an evidence-based, public health training program that teaches participants the signs and symptoms of mental health challenges or crisis, what to do in an emergency, and where to turn for help. MHFA is implemented around the U.S. and the world. Research has shown that the training reduces stigma, enhances behavioral health literacy, and improves participants’ behavioral health.
Suicide is complex. Treatments and therapies for people with suicidal thoughts or actions will vary with age, gender, physical and mental well-being, and with individual experiences.
Multiple types of psychosocial interventions have been found to help individuals who have attempted suicide. These types of interventions may prevent someone from making another attempt.
Some individuals at risk for suicide might benefit from medication. Doctors and patients can work together to find the best medication or medication combination, as well as the right dose. Because many individuals at risk for suicide often have a mental illness and substance use problems, individuals might benefit from medication along with psychosocial intervention.
Clozapine is an antipsychotic medication used primarily to treat individuals with schizophrenia. To date, it is the only medication with a specific U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) indication for reducing the risk of recurrent suicidal behavior in patients with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder.
If you are prescribed a medication, be sure you:
Other medications have been used to treat suicidal thoughts and behaviors, but more research is needed to show the benefit of these options. For basic information about these medications, you can visit the NIMH Mental Health Medications webpage. For the most up-to-date information on medications, side effects, and warnings, visit the FDA website.
Courtesy US Dept of Veterans Affairs & Rocky Mountain MIRECC for Suicide Prevention
This information is intended to inform and guide adults when talking with children about a suicide attempt in the family. It is not intended to replace the advice of a mental health professional and it may be best to use this along with professional support if you or your child is struggling with how to talk about this difficult topic. It is important to consider your child’s level of development and ability to understand events when deciding how to talk with them. Sticking to simple facts, key issues and answering any questions they may have may be all they need.
Without support of family or other caring adults, a young child may try to make sense of this confusing situation on their own. Children this age have magical thinking and their own ideas about what is happening can be more frightening that the situation itself. Because preschool children do not have the vocabulary to express all their thoughts and feelings, they may act out at times. Small children, when stressed, may exhibit changes in behavior, such as temper tantrums. They may also have trouble sleeping and may become clingy because they are feeling insecure, anxious or fearful. Younger children are self-interested by nature and so they may blame themselves and feel guilty because they think they have caused the problem. Children this age will need lots of reassurance and a sense that problems can be solved. It is important to instill a sense of hope that their parent/relative, while struggling, can get help and get well.
To consider if you should speak with your preschooler
It is important to talk to your child about the suicide attempt to help them understand what has happened. Without support of family/friends, children may try to make sense of this confusing situation themselves. Sometimes children blame themselves for something they may or may not have done. When stressed, a child may exhibit changes in behavior, such as acting out, trouble sleeping or becoming more attached due to insecure, anxious or tearful feelings. It is important to instill a sense of hope that their parent/relative can get help and get well.
To consider if you should speak with your school-age child
It is important to talk to your teen about the suicide attempt to help them understand what has happened. Without support of family/friends, they may try to make sense of this confusing situation themselves. Sometimes teens blame themselves for something they may or may not have done. Teens may not want to talk directly about their worries or feelings. Instead, they may show them in other ways. They may isolate, or not talk to their friends out of shame, uneasiness or fear of being misunderstood or rejected. It’s helpful to share a hopeful outlook and when appropriate involve your teen in activities that may help make a positive difference.To consider if you should speak with your teen
Talking to those who have lost a loved one to suicide presents challenges beyond the discomfort we commonly feel in the presence of grief. Despite our best intentions, our eagerness to comfort someone or to fill a long silence may unwittingly cause us to say hurtful things. Similarly, the fear of compounding the loss survivor’s pain by saying the wrong thing may cause us to self-edit in unhelpful ways or lead to our avoiding those who are grieving altogether.