Suicide doesn’t have a single cause. There are many different reasons why someone would consider suicide. Risk factors are characteristics or conditions that increase the chance that a person may try to take their life. Depression is the most common condition associated with suicide. Unfortunately, it often goes undiagnosed and untreated.
- Serious physical health conditions that involve pain
- Traumatic brain injury
- Any of the following mental health conditions:
- Aggressive behavior, mood disorders, toxic relationships
- Substance use problems
- Bipolar disorder
- Conduct / behavioral disorders (ex: antisocial, rule breaking, defiant, violent tendencies, trouble demonstrating empathy, etc.)
- Anxiety disorders
Stressful experiences that may contribute to or trigger suicide. Discrimination, isolation and relationship conflicts with family, friends and others can contribute to overwhelming and immediate stress. Or, stress can build up over a long time and lead to suicidal thoughts.
- Do they have means to harm or kill themselves – including firearms, illicit drugs or dangerous prescription medication?
- Have they experienced prolonged stress – including harassment, bullying, relationship problems or unemployment?
- Have they experienced a stressful life event – including rejection, divorce, job loss, financial crisis?
- Have they experienced the loss of a loved one to suicide?
- Have they been exposed to graphic or sensationalized accounts of suicide?
Those who have attempted suicide before are very likely to try again. And those who have a history of self-harming are also at a higher risk of suicide.
- Have they attempted suicide before?
- Is there a family history of suicide?
- Have they experienced childhood abuse, neglect or trauma?
Understand Suicide Warning Signs
Look for a change in behavior, or even entirely new behaviors. This is especially important if the new or changed behavior is related to a painful event, a loss, or a life change. Most people who take their own lives exhibit one or more warning signs – either through what they say or do.
These warning signs are indicators that someone may be in danger and may need immediate help:
Do they talk about suicide?
- Do they mention wanting to die?
- Do they talk about being a burden?
- Do they say they are feeling hopeless?
- Do they mention feeling trapped with no way out?
- Do they talk about unbearable pain?
Do you notice changes in their behavior?
- Are they sleeping too much or too little?
- Are they withdrawing from family and friends?
- Are they searching for ways to end their life?
- Are they involved in risky behaviors?
- Are they becoming especially negative or aggressive?
- Are they giving away personal possessions?
- Are they visiting or calling people to say goodbye?
- Is there an increased use of drugs or alcohol?
- Are they self-harming?
- Are they having delusions or hallucinations?
Do you recognize changes in their mood?
Do you recognize changes in their mood?
Is there a significant change in their mood?
Do they seem to be especially depressed?
Are they overly anxious?
Have they lost interest in activities they used to enjoy?
Are they irritable?
Have they experienced feelings of shame?
Are they easily angered?
How to Support Someone Experiencing Suicidal Thoughts
If you think that someone is feeling suicidal, the best thing you can do is encourage them to talk about how they are feeling. Talking to someone about their suicidal thoughts does not make them more likely to end their life. You may not know exactly what to say. It may feel like an awkward and uncomfortable conversation – but it’s important to let them know you see them and want to help.
Here’s how you can help:
- Encourage them to talk.
- Listen attentively and show that you are taking their concerns seriously.
- Recognize their fear and sadness and ask them about it.
- Ask if they are thinking of hurting themselves or taking their own life, and if they have a plan.
- Demonstrate that you care.
- Offer reassurance, but don’t be dismissive about their problems.
- Make sure they don’t have access to medications or any type of weapon.
- Stay with the person if they are at high risk of suicide.
- Offer to provide support and seek professional help.
Here’s what to avoid:
- Don’t interrupt them with your own stories.
- Don’t panic or get angry with them.
- Don’t offer advice.
- Don’t be judgmental.
- Don’t remind them of all the things they have to live for.
Have the difficult conversation.
If you’re not sure where to start the conversation with someone who is feeling suicidal, ask either:
“Have you been thinking about suicide?” or
“Have you thought about ending your life?”
If they answer yes to either of those questions, next ask:
“Have you thought about how?” and
“Do you have the means?”
This will help you gauge how serious the situation may be.
When you listen to what they have to say, you’re letting them know you care. Remember that it’s not your job to find an answer, or even to understand why they feel the way they do.
Never leave a suicidal person alone, unless you are concerned for your own safety.