Experts tell us the truly suicidal, of all ages, do not want to die—they just want to end whatever is causing the pain—be it physical, emotional or both.
By learning more about suicide, you can become a partner with The Samaritans in suicide prevention and help yourself, loved ones and friends. Scroll down or click on a question to learn answers to all FAQs posted:
- Is suicide preventable?
- What do experts say are the risk factors for suicide?
- What do the experts say are protective factors for suicide?
- If a person has successfully fought off suicidal feelings and no longer appears to be at risk, does that mean that suicide is no longer an issue?
- What signs should I look for in my family member or friend?
- What is the suicidal person thinking?
- What is the first step I can take to help?
- What should I say?
- Should I then ask questions about suicide?
- If I ask the suicide question, will I “plant the idea”?
- What do I say next?
- Now that I know that suicide is possible what do I do next?
- Should I tell someone? Who?
- Isn’t it true that if a person really wants help, he or she will get it?
- But if I tell someone and break the confidence, my friend, family member or loved one will never talk to me again. They trust me!
- What type of help is available?
According to the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, research shows that under ideal conditions “suicide is a preventable problem with realistic opportunities to save many lives”. And while in actuality, “definitive studies are frequently missing for many types of social and mental health interventions including those designed to prevent suicide”, the best suicide programs available strive to incorporate a range of services and providers, working together, within the community. (See protective factors listed below.)
Experts tell us, the truly suicide believe:
- There are no options for ending the pain and therefore no hope.
- No one cares if they live or die.
- They are a burden to loved ones and friends.
- Without options, their life is out of control.
- The only control they have is over their own death.
Suicidal feelings happen over time—whether a short period or a long period—and for a number of reasons. At the same time, prevention is a process that is most effective when the right support system, including family and friends, medical and mental health, school, as well as public and private sectors, work together.
What do experts say are the risk factors for suicide?
According to the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, risk factors are thought of as leading to or being associated with suicide; that is, people “possessing” the risk factors are at greater potential for suicidal behavior. Risk factors include but are not necessarily limited to:
Bio-psychosocial Risk Factors
- Mental disorders – particularly mood disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders and certain personality disorders
- Alcohol and other substance abuse disorders
- Impulsive and/or aggressive tendencies
- History of trauma or abuse
- Some major physical illnesses
- Previous suicide attempt
- Family history of suicide
Environmental Risk Factors
- Job or financial loss
- Relational or social loss
- Easy access to lethal means (such as firearms)
- Local clusters of suicide that have a contagious influence
Sociocultural Risk Factors
- Lack of social support and sense of isolation
- Stigma associated with help-seeking behavior
- Barriers to accessing health care, especially mental health and substance abuse treatment
- Certain cultural and religious belief (for instance, the belief that suicide is a noble resolution of a personal dilemma)
- Exposure to, including through the media, and influence of others who have died by suicide
According to the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, protective factors reduce the likelihood of suicide, enhance resilience and may serve to counterbalance risk factors.
- Effective clinical care for mental, physical and substance abuse disorders
- Easy access to a variety of clinical interventions and support for help-seeking
- Restricted access to highly lethal means of suicide
- Strong connections to family and community support
- Support through ongoing medical and mental health care relationships
- Skills in problem solving, conflict resolution and nonviolent handling of disputes
- Cultural and religious beliefs that discourage suicide and support self-preservation
If a person has successfully fought off suicidal feelings and no longer appears to be at risk, does that mean that suicide is no longer an issue?
According to the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, positive resistance to suicide is not permanent, so individuals and families should seek programs and professional help that support and maintain protection against suicide over the lifespan.
What signs should I look for in my family member or friend?
The person who is depressed and maybe expressing suicidal feelings often has a hard time thinking clearly or recognizing his or her own symptoms. Symptoms including negative thinking, inappropriate behaviors or physical changes that last more than two weeks need to be reversed as soon as possible. (NIH publication No. 01 -3842 Reprinted June 2001).
Depressed or suicidal feelings are often expressed in the following ways:
- Talking about, writing about, hinting at or threatening suicide (such threats precede four out of five deaths by suicide)
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Drastic changes in personality (for example, a person might become rebellious or reckless)
- Losing interest in favorite activities
- Sleeping too much or too little
- No appetite of overeating
- Previous suicide attempts
- Giving away prized possessions
- Fatigue, lethargy or apathy
- Doing poorly in school
- Social withdrawal or isolation
- Drastic changes in appearance
- Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
- Conflicts with friends and family
Please Note: The above is not a complete list, just some of the more common warning signs.
Experts tell us the suicidal person truly believes the world would be a better place if he or she were not living. They also tell us the suicidal person truly believes no one in his or her immediate circle of family and friends cares if he or she dies. They also tell us that the suicidal person doesn’t necessarily want to end his/her life, they want to end whatever is causing so much anguish and that suicide appears to be the only way for that pain to end. (See “What do I say next?” below.)
What a suicidal person most needs is to be listened to, not lectured or advised. Don’t try to offer solutions or try to make them feel better. What a depressed or suicide person most wants is to feel safe with you, to know that you can be trusted, to know that you care. He/she needs a person who will say, “I care” – and show it by not talking but by listening. Listen with sincerity and care, with interest and without judgment.
Begin by gently asking, “Is there something bothering you? I’ll be glad to listen.” Your family member, friend or loved one might reveal something that happened at home, at work, school or in a relationship. You then might ask any of these questions: “How did you feel about that?” “How did that make you feel?” “Did that hurt your feelings?” “What are you feeling, right now, this very minute?” Remember; demonstrate that you can listen patiently.
Yes. People who are depressed or suicidal often have a hard time recognizing their own symptoms. They may need your help. When you think that risk factors are there, you can ask, “Is that problem bothering you so much that you are thinking about killing yourself?” Asking the suicide question is appropriate. You can also ask if they have a plan, a method and a time set.
One of the most harmful misconceptions about suicide is the fear that you’ll “plant the idea” if you raise the issue of suicide. Nothing could be further from the truth. It demonstrates that you are genuinely concerned about the person in distress. By raising the issue, you will not push people into considering or attempting suicide. Talking through feelings, and giving uncritical support, may help a friend, family member or loved one recognizes his or her need for treatment. This is especially true if someone is reluctant to ask for help.
Tell the suicidal person that you care, that you don’t want them to die. Tell the person that depression and related symptoms are treatable and you want him or her to seek professional help. Say that suicidal feelings can pass with the right help from a doctor and mental health professional. Offer to assist in obtaining whatever help he or she would like. If that person is uncomfortable talking to you, a family member or doctor, tell them they can always call The Samaritans of Rhode Island or visit this website to learn more about suicide.
The knowledge that someone may want to kill him or herself can be very distressing and is much too big to handle alone or keep to yourself. It’s important that help be gotten immediately.
If you are school age and it’s a school friend who is suicidal, tell a teacher, counselor, principal, parent or other trusted adult. By law in Rhode Island, school staff and others who care for children must notify parents and assist in getting needed help.
If it’s a relative who is suicidal, tell another trusted, family member who will listen to your concerns about risk factors for suicide. Share what you have learned on this website. Tell them that the suicidal person must see a doctor or professional mental health specialist.
If you are suicidal, the same rules apply. Tell a trusted person that you need and want to be helped. Remember that suicide is preventable with the right access to care and treatment. You can also call The Samaritans.
Depression and other issues relating to suicide sap energy and self-esteem, and interfere with a person’s ability or wish to get help. Often times, people who are depressed have a hard time thinking clearly or recognizing their own symptoms.
But if I tell someone and break the confidence, my friend, family member or loved one will never talk to me again. They trust me!
This ethical dilemma can certainly be trying but your goal from the beginning of your conversation was to learn if this person was thinking about suicide. The idea that suicide may be preventable with the right help should guide your decision to break the confidence. And if the suicidal person confronts you about breaking the confidence, tell him or her that you did it because you care and you don’t want that person to die.
If the situation is an emergency and suicide is imminent – remember that you cannot help if you or those around you are in danger – this is especially true if lethal weapons are available. Go to a safe place and call 911 immediately! Follow 911 operator instructions.
A suicidal person can also receive help at the nearest hospital emergency room.
The Samaritans maintains a 24-hour listening line manned by trained volunteers. In addition to offering nonjudgmental listening, they can also call 911 or make referrals to acute care hospitals, the VA, local community mental health centers and other issue specific hotline numbers.
Remember that all care should be coordinated through a primary care physician and coordinated with a licensed mental health specialist. If you or someone you know does not have a primary care physician, referral information can be provided by health insurance companies and local hospital physician referral programs. Medical care can also be provided through RI’s network of community health centers.
Suicide Prevention Resources for Rhode Island Residents
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