It’s a topic people don’t talk about often, but should: suicide. Learn about suicide risk factors and prevention from Clinical Psychologist Jenna Mendelson, PhD, in this 2 Your Well-Being discussion with WFMY News 2.
What are the signs and symptoms of risk for suicide?
“Unfortunately, really anybody can commit suicide, there’s no clear way to predict it. There are some risk factors that we do know. Historically, suicide has been more common among adult males over the age of 65. … Suicide is now actually the second leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 24.”
“So really, it can affect anybody of any age. It’s found to be more common among males. People who have a history of substance use are at higher risk for completed suicides, as well as mental illness, and actually impulsivity. Tragically, suicide is often something a person’s been thinking about for a while that’s actually an impulsive, in the moment act to actually go through with it. So impulsivity is associated with completed suicides.
How would someone know if their loved one is considering suicide?
“Unfortunately, many, maybe most people keep these kinds of thoughts to themselves. So it’s often really subtle and really hard to know the signs, especially when you add in the fact that many completed suicides are kind of an in the moment decision.”
“That being said, there are some behavioral red flags to look out for. If a person says they want to kill themselves, it’s really important to take that seriously. Often people kind of misconstrue that as being attention seeking, but these kinds of statements are rarely attention seeking and it’s always important to take them seriously.”
“Sometimes people won’t quite come out and say that they are having thoughts of killing themselves, but they do say these more passive things like ‘well, I won’t be a problem much longer,’ or ‘if anything happens to me, I just want you to know…’ and they kind of tell you things, of if they want to make plans for after they pass away. Often those kinds of comments might seem out of the blue. Somebody giving away favorite possessions, making plans for pets, throwing out belongings that you know are important to them, that’s a very big red flag.”
“Sometimes when somebody abruptly becomes cheerful after a prolonged period of depression, that can be a red flag for suicidality. It can be that the person has finally kind of committed to the decision to commit suicide, and they’re feeling a sense of relief that they won’t be suffering for much longer. Or there are some instances where a person maybe does start to feel a little better, but it’s just better enough that they have the motivation to act on plans that they may have been having. So a kind of abrupt cheerfulness can unfortunately be a red flag.”
“Somebody writing a suicide note can of course be a pretty, pretty significant red flag. If somebody’s writing things like that, it’s important to take it seriously. And somebody expressing kind of bizarre thoughts about different conspiracies that are happening, and things they fear might happen to them, might be having a kind of break where they could be at higher risk for suicide.”
Are the warning signs of suicide different in children and teenagers?
“There are many overlapping warning signs, but they manifest differently based on developmental level. Children who are being bullied, if you’re aware of bullying, that can be a predictor for suicidality and having suicidal thoughts. Often, children feel like there’s no escape, and so they resort to thinking about suicide, talking about death or dying, drawing or writing stories about death or dying. Those can be red flags.”
If you think your child is having suicidal thoughts, how should you approach them?
“Parents are often afraid about asking children outright if they’ve had thoughts about killing themselves. There can be a fear that saying that can give them the idea. And one thing that we know for sure, there’s been a lot of research on this, is that directly asking someone if they’re having thoughts of taking their own life does not increase the thoughts of it or the risk that they might start thinking of it.”
“So if you are concerned about your child, I would first ask in an open-ended way and kind of see what they say. And they might come out and tell you that. If you’re really concerned that your child or adolescent might be having thoughts of suicide, go ahead and ask them if they have they have had thoughts of hurting themselves or even killing themselves.”
How should you approach another adult about suicidal thoughts?
“If someone you know or love discloses to you that they’re having thoughts of hurting themselves and killing themselves, the first thing is to take it seriously. We always want to take this seriously. Try to stay calm. It’s upsetting to hear that and easy to have our own emotional reactions, but the more you can stay calm and just leave space for them to open up, the more helpful information you’re going to get to keep them safe. Don’t promise confidentiality because you’re going to want to let their friends and family members know about this so that they have that much more support in terms of keeping them safe.”
“Ask them if they have a plan, see if you can find out what the plan is so that you can maybe help in making sure that they don’t have the means to act out their plan. If you’re really concerned that this person is not able to keep themselves safe, take them to the emergency room, go ahead and call 911. If you need to, drive them to the emergency room, or take them to a mental health urgent care. And once they’re there, their medical professionals will be able to keep them safe and triage them to the appropriate treatment.”
“[If you’re talking on the phone], keep them on the phone, keep them talking to you. And if you can do this – it’s tricky to keep them on the phone and do this – but call their local police, call 911 if they’re in your area, and have the police go out and do a well check on them. And if they’re not safe, they will make sure that the person makes it to the emergency room and gets into the appropriate care.
What resources are there for people experiencing suicidal ideation?
“The Guilford County Behavioral Health Urgent Care is a great resource available to those of us in Guilford County. They’re open 24/7. Their phone number is 336-890-2700 and they see people aged four and up. So if you have somebody that you’re concerned about, or you need that care, right then in the moment, the Guilford County Behavioral Health Urgent Care is absolutely an option. “
“988 used to be the suicide and crisis lifeline. It is now a national emergency line for people having mental health crises. It offers 24/7 phone call, text and chat access. You get to talk to a trained crisis counselor who can help people experiencing suicidal ideation and also substance abuse and other mental health crises. So if you are in a situation where you’re talking to a friend, and maybe you’re not sure what steps to take, and you’re really concerned about them, this is a number that you can call and speak with a mental health professional who can help guide you and your friend through whatever they might need next.
“And the most simple and straightforward one that I want to make sure people know about is if if you or someone you know is suicidal, you can always go to the emergency room. They will keep you physically safe, they will figure out what it is that you need, and they will triage you to the appropriate care.”