Each year, World Suicide Prevention Day is celebrated on September 10 to raise awareness and support suicide prevention efforts. This year, the event falls on a Saturday, and people across the globe are asked to light a candle in observation at 8 p.m. Another activity associated with the day is the annual Cycle Around the Globe event, which runs from September 10 to October 10. Participate virtually from anywhere in the world as we work together to raise awareness of suicide prevention efforts.
While global awareness campaigns are beneficial, you can make even more of a difference by helping those in your life who may be struggling with suicidal ideation. Even if you desire to help, you may not know the best way to intervene, or even how to determine if someone you love is thinking about suicide. Below are some strategies for helping a friend or loved one with suicidal ideation; knowing them just might save a life.
Suicide by the Numbers
Before diving in to strategies for helping a friend, it’s beneficial to understand just how widespread suicide is in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 45,979 people died by suicide in 2020, and 12.2 million adults thought seriously about suicide. Males are especially likely to be affected by suicide, as 4 times as many men as women die by suicide.
There have been recent declines in suicide rates, as the rate increased from 2000 to 2018 and then declined from 2018 to 2020. Nevertheless, the suicide rate among females aged 10 to 14 and aged 15 to 24 has increased, and there has only been an overall 5% decline in suicide rates the last two years, after a 30% increase was observed from 2000 to 2020. Given these facts, suicide prevention efforts remain at the forefront.
Recognizing Warning Signs
One of the first steps in intervening with a friend who may be at risk of suicide is recognizing the early warning signs. Knowing signs to look for allows you to step in before thoughts of suicide escalate to a suicide plan with intention, or worse, to a completed suicide attempt.
Researchers have spent a great deal of time evaluating the early warnings signs of suicide, in an effort to educate the public and give people the tools to take action before it’s too late. Recent research has indicated that the following warning signs point to increased risk of suicide:
- Verbal threats, which may be vague statements such as, “I am just tired of it all.”
- Mood swings/unstable emotions
- Talking or writing about death
- Reckless or risky behavior
- Communicating that there is no meaning to life
- Appearing sad or crying frequently
- Seeming angry
- Changes in sleep habits
- Lack of eye contact when interacting with others
- Being silent or withdrawing from others
These early warning signs suggest that a person might be thinking about suicide, or perhaps they already have a plan. When you notice these signs, it’s probably time to intervene.
So, what can you do to help when you worry that a friend is at risk of suicide? Consider the strategies below.
- Say something. People who are thinking about or seriously considering suicide may be hesitant to reach out for help. Perhaps they are worried they will be a burden to you if they share their feelings, or maybe they fear that they will be judged negatively for expressing thoughts of hurting themselves. Instead of waiting for your friend or loved one to speak up, approach them if you are concerned or notice changes in behavior. For instance, if you notice that your friend seems sad and withdrawn, and this is a change in behavior for them, express to them that you have noticed and are worried for them.
- Listen. A person who is struggling with deep feelings of depression and suicidal ideation will benefit from having someone listen to them. Offering a listening ear shows that you care and are available for support. Listening requires you to meet the person where they are, instead of offering advice or telling them what to do.
- Help them create a safety plan. If someone is having fleeting thoughts of self-harm, they need to have a plan to keep themselves safe in case of a crisis. If your friend is open to the idea, consider helping them create a safety plan, which outlines things they can do to calm down in case of a crisis, people they can call if they are having thoughts of self-harm, and professionals or resources they can turn to if needed.
- Know when to seek outside help. If your friend or loved one expresses plans or intent to harm themselves, and they have the means to do so, it is time to reach out for additional intervention. You might consider calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988, to connect them with mental health crisis resources. If the person is in immediate danger, call 911.
Major depressive disorder involves feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness, coupled with other symptoms, such as difficulty concentrating, lack of interest in regular activities, and in some cases, suicidal ideation. If left untreated, depression can become severe and chronic, leaving some people feeling as if they have no reason to go on living.
If you or a loved one is experiencing these feelings of despair, please know that you are not alone, and there is help available. Even if the usual treatment methods, such as counseling and medication, have not provided relief, there are alternative options that can alleviate depressive symptoms. For those who do not respond adequately to treatment, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is an alternative treatment modality for depression. This non-invasive procedure uses a device that is placed against the head to stimulate areas of the brain involved in mood regulation.
Pulse TMS provides services to those located in the Los Angeles and Southern California region. To learn more about our services, or to determine if you are a candidate for TMS treatment, contact our office today.