DCH Corner – Suicide Signs and Symptoms

national suicide awareness month

September is National Suicide Awareness Month, and all month long we’ll be dedicating our DCH Corner to articles about suicide risks, suicide prevention, and ways you can support loved ones or receive support. These articles will also be archived on our website (www.decaturcountyhospital.org).

You can also visit the DCH lobby during the month of September to pick up informational materials about suicide. Please also join us on Thursday, September 12, from 9:30 am – 11:00 am for an open house with our Senior Life Solutions team. The team will be available to answer questions about suicide prevention, have awareness ribbons and beads to recognize those affected by suicide, and more information about our Senior Life Solutions program to support elderly persons in dealing with unique emotions and situations that face us as we age.

For the second article in our series, we are providing valuable information on recognizing potential signs of suicidal thoughts, and how to approach loved ones displaying those signs. This article was reprinted from NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. More resources can be found at www.nami.org.

It can be frightening if someone you love talks about suicidal thoughts. It can be even more frightening if you find yourself thinking about dying or giving up on life. Not taking these kinds of thoughts seriously can have devastating outcomes, as suicide is a permanent solution to (often) temporary problems.

According to the CDC, suicide rates have increased by 30% since 1999. Nearly 45,000 lives were lost to suicide in 2016 alone. Comments or thoughts about suicide — also known as suicidal ideation — can begin small like, “I wish I wasn’t here” or “Nothing matters.” But over time, they can become more explicit and dangerous.

Here are a few other warning signs of suicide: Increased alcohol and drug use. Aggressive behavior. Withdrawal from friends, family and community. Dramatic mood swings. Impulsive or reckless behavior.

Suicidal behaviors are a psychiatric emergency. If you or a loved one starts to take any of these steps, seek immediate help from a health care provider or call 911: Collecting and saving pills or buying a weapon. Giving away possessions. Tying up loose ends, like organizing personal papers or paying off debts. Saying goodbye to friends and family. If you are unsure, a licensed mental health professional can help assess.

Research has found that 46% of people who die by suicide had a known mental health condition. Several other things may put a person at risk of suicide, including: A family history of suicide. Substance abuse. Intoxication. Access to firearms. A serious or chronic medical illness. Gender: although more women than men attempt suicide, men are nearly 4x more likely to die by suicide. A history of trauma or abuse. Prolonged stress. A recent tragedy or loss.

When a suicide-related crisis occurs, friends and family are often caught off-guard, unprepared and unsure of what to do. The behaviors of a person experiencing a crisis can be unpredictable, changing dramatically without warning.

There are a few ways to approach a suicide-crisis: Talk openly and honestly. Don’t be afraid to ask questions like: “Do you have a plan for how you would kill yourself?” Remove means such as guns, knives or stockpiled pills. Calmly ask simple and direct questions, like “Can I help you call your psychiatrist?” If there are multiple people around, have one person speak at a time. Express support and concern. Don’t argue, threaten or raise your voice. Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong. If you’re nervous, try not to fidget or pace. Be patient.

Like any other health emergency, it’s important to address a mental health crisis like suicide quickly and effectively. Unlike other health emergencies, mental health crises don’t have instructions or resources on how to help or what to expect (like the Heimlich Maneuver or CPR). That’s why NAMI created Navigating a Mental Health Crisis: A NAMI Resource Guide for Those Experiencing a Mental Health Emergency (https://www.nami.org/crisisguide), so people experiencing mental health emergencies and their loved ones can have the answers and information they need when they need it.

If your friend or family member struggles with suicidal ideation day-to-day, let them know that they can talk with you about what they’re going through. Make sure that you adopt an open and compassionate mindset when they’re talking. Instead of “arguing” or trying to disprove any negative statements they make (“Your life isn’t that bad!”), try active listening techniques such as reflecting their feelings and summarizing their thoughts. This can help your loved one feel heard and validated.

Let them know that mental health professionals are trained to help people understand their feelings and improve mental wellness and resiliency. Psychotherapy, like cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy, can help a person with thoughts of suicide recognize ineffective patterns of thinking and behavior, validate their feelings and learn coping skills. Suicidal thoughts are a symptom, just like any other — they can be treated, and they can improve over time.

Suicide is not the answer. There is hope. If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, reach out to a hotline to talk to a caring, supportive individual. Dial 1-800-273-TALK to be connected.

Next week in our DCH Corner, we’ll focus on teen suicide risk factors and what to watch for. To learn more about Decatur County Hospital, Senior Life Solutions, and all our available services, please visit www.decaturcountyhospital.org, or follow us on Facebook @DecaturCountyHospitalIowa.