“I could just kill myself!”
I am sure we have all heard friends and loved one’s use this phrase (or something similar) before. We may have even used it ourselves. It is not uncommon for someone to use it out of frustration to blow off steam, but their intent behind those words was never to harm themselves. So how are we supposed to know when someone is saying it to blow off steam versus when they may actually mean it? Or how do we know if they are actively suicidal (has plan, desire, and intent) versus passively suicidal (would not actively take life but thinks they would be better off dead)?
Let’s first take a look at some risk factors that may make someone more susceptible to suicidal thoughts:
- Having a family history of suicide
- Substance use, as drugs can create mental highs and lows that worsen suicidal thoughts.
- Current Intoxication, as more than 1 in 3 people who die from suicide are under the influence of alcohol at the time of death.
- Having access to firearms
- Already diagnosed with a serious and chronic medical illness
- Gender. Although more women than men attempt suicide, men are nearly 4 times more likely to die by suicide.
- A history of trauma or abuse
- Prolonged stress
- A recent tragedy or loss
Now let’s take a look at warning signs that may help us determine if someone is suicidal:
- Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves
- Talking or thinking about death often
- Talking about feeling empty, hopeless, or having no reason to live
- Talking about great guilt or shame
- Talking about feeling trapped or feeling that there are no solutions
- Feeling unbearable pain (emotional pain or physical pain)
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Using alcohol or drugs more often
- Acting anxious or agitated
- Withdrawing from family, friends, and community supports
- Changing eating and/or sleeping habits
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Dramatic mood swings
- Impulsive or reckless behavior: taking great risks that could lead to death
Lastly, if a loved one is displaying any of the below suicidal behaviors, this would be deemed 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:
- Making a plan or looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching for lethal methods online, stockpiling pills, or buying a gun
- 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
Most importantly, if you are concerned about a loved one, treat these concerns seriously. Do not blow it off by thinking “oh they are just upset and will get over it tomorrow.” Speak to them about their thoughts, ask more questions to gauge how valid their spoken words are, and work with them to get professional help when needed. Oftentimes we are afraid of talking to our loved ones for fear of “putting thoughts inside their head” as it is believed that if they are not already thinking about suicide, then questioning them starts them to think about it more. However, this belief is not true. Studies show that asking at-risk individuals if they are suicidal does not increase suicides or suicidal thoughts. If someone is truly suicidal the thoughts are already there, and by asking questions we are just gathering further information on how to keep them safe. Remove the shame and stigma behind suicidal thoughts, help our loved ones open up and ask for help. There are stories of hope and recovery. Be someone’s hope.
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counselor