Teen Suicide Prevention
When a Loved One Is a Suicide Risk
If someone close to you is depressed and feeling helpless and hopeless, suicide is a real possibility. Find out what you can do.
By Debra-Lynn B Hook
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
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Your good friend has been in a deep depression for weeks. Now suddenly he’s talking about buying a gun and playing Russian roulette. What should you do?
First, don’t take his comments lightly. While some people commit suicide without verbal warning, studies show that 75 percent of people who commit suicide first talk about it. Your loved one might not come right out and say, “I’m a suicide risk. I think I might kill myself.” But he may hint at his intentions with such doomsday statements as “I have no reason to live” or “I don’t have a purpose in life.” He may be at a juncture where he sees no other options.
Signs of Severe Depression and Suicide Risk
Everyone gets sad on occasion, and some may even be clinically depressed, particularly following a major loss. But depression that persists or disrupts daily life may require professional help.
Signs of severe depression and suicide risk may include:
- Extreme irritability
- Sustained lack of interest in physical health
- Dangerous behaviors such as excessive drinking or abusive drug use
- Uncontrolled rage or extreme anger
- Persistent hopelessness
- Expressing persistent sadness or emptiness
- Isolation and withdrawal
- Sleep disturbances, either always sleeping or having trouble sleeping
- Dramatic mood changes
Signs of Suicidal or Destructive Thoughts
Your loved one may provide clues that he is considering suicide. He may be:
- Looking for ways to kill himself with pills or weapons or by other means
- Giving away his or her belongings
- Talking about saying goodbye or going away forever
- Writing, or talking, more frequently than usual about dying, death, or suicide
Helping to Prevent a Suicide Death
You may feel helpless when you encounter another person's suicidal despair. And yet most suicides are preventable.
You can’t assume absolute responsibility for saving another adult human being from self-destruction. But you can arm yourself with insight and information. You can help your loved one by learning what treatment is available and by gently encouraging your loved one to seek professional help. This may be delicate, involving several steps:
- Educate yourself before you confront your friend. Gather suicide hotline numbers. Find out about different treatment options that include medication and counseling, and where such treatment is available. This can take but a few minutes and may just involve calling your county mental health facility or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK), which has trained crisis workers standing by 24 hours a day.
- Set aside quiet, uninterrupted time to talk to your loved one about his behaviors, your concerns, and what treatment is available to him. Start off by telling your friend that you care about him and that you have been concerned for some time about him.
- Be prepared for defensiveness and barriers. Your friend might see his situation as a sign of weakness. He may be embarrassed that you’ve noticed the behaviors he thought he was hiding. Your loved one may be afraid to talk openly about his problems for fear of troubling others. He may be hesitant to go for treatment because of finances or embarrassment.
- Be gentle but direct during your conversation. Discuss specific behaviors and why they concern you.
- Ask your friend outright if he has been considering suicide. Contrary to what you might believe, you will not provoke suicide by mentioning it.
- Listen with empathy and respect to what your friend has to say.
- Don’t promise to keep secret what he says. Tell your friend that it’s important that he get help and that his feelings are no cause for shame.
- Do suggest alternatives to suicide, but don’t be judgmental or offer advice on how to change behavior.
- Share the resources and information you found. Offer to call a suicide hotline or help your friend make an appointment at a treatment center. Then offer to go to the first appointment with him.
- Don’t leave your friend alone if the threat of suicide seems imminent; call police if necessary.
Supporting a friend or family member through a suicide scare can be difficult. You will need your own support system — other friends and maybe even your own professional counseling.
Your loved one may not be willing, or able, to take action right away. But you can continue to be a support by listening, by following up with your friend on a regular basis, and by letting him know you care.
Video: When A Loved One Commits Suicide | Ganel-Lyn Condie
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