Living Well: How to recognize the warning signs of suicide
Suicide is not caused by any single factor, but the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that it most often occurs when stressors in life and mental health challenges converge to create a feeling of hopelessness and despair.
In Moffat County, there have been seven suicides so far in 2019, said Meghan Francone, executive director of Open Heart Advocates, a victims’ advocacy and services organization operated in partnership with Memorial Regional Health.
The teen suicide rate in Moffat County in people ages 15 to 19 is 52.6 per 100,000 population, compared to the state of Colorado’s rate of 12.2.
The all-age suicide rate in Moffat County is 32.9, compared to 16.5 for the state.
“Not talking about this topic isn’t working. Sweeping it under the rug isn’t working. Moffat County has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation,” Francone said. “We need to be having these conversations. It’s OK to get help, and there is help out there.”
Who’s at risk?
Suicide doesn’t care about how much money you make, what you do for work, who you’re married to or any other factors. Like cancer, Francone said anyone can be at risk for suicide.
“There are things that can increase your risk, but there’s really no checklist,” she said. “There are some people who have all the risk factors but never consider suicide, and there are some people who can have a rough day and can consider suicide.”
Health-related risk factors include mental health conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders and certain personality traits. There are also environmental factors, such as access to lethal means through firearms or drugs, prolonged stress from situations such as bullying, relationship problems or unemployment, and stressful life events like rejection, divorce, financial crisis or other life transitions, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Other factors that could contribute to risk include serious physical health conditions, traumatic brain injury, childhood abuse, neglect or trauma, and family history of suicide.
Francone said any changes in a person’s typical behavior could be a warning sign for suicide. Even positive changes in behavior could be a sign.
“A lot of times we’re good at recognizing when someone is more withdrawn, more upset, not eating, not responding, not responding to social media, not showering, etc.,” she said, “but sometimes we don’t recognize changes that are positive. If someone is all of a sudden interested in religion, or is finally tying up loose ends, making amends with people, paying off debts, turning in homework — these are changes in behavior that can be viewed as positive.”
Open Heart Advocates works in partnership with Community Clinics at Memorial Regional Health to provide vital services to community members in their greatest times of need.
Certified and specialized advocates work with people at their most vulnerable times to restore dignity after it has been challenged by sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, teen dating violence, human trafficking and other crimes or traumas.
If you need help or know someone who does, call their 24-hour crisis line at 970-824-2400.
To learn more about the services offered, visit openheartadvocates.org or call 970-824-9709.
Other resources include:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)
- Colorado Crisis Services: 1-844-493-8255 (TALK), or text “TALK” to 38255; https://coloradocrisisservices.org
- Mind Springs Health Crisis Line: 1-844-493-8255
- If you or someone you know is in imminent danger, call 911.
- The MRH emergency department is also a safe place to go in a crisis.
Suicide warning signs
If a person talks about:
- Killing themselves
- Feeling hopeless
- Having no reason to live
- Being a burden to others
- Feeling trapped
- Unbearable pain
Behaviors that may signal risk, especially if related to a painful event, loss or change:
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Looking for a way to end their lives, such as searching online for methods
- Withdrawing from activities
- Isolating from family and friends
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
- Giving away prized possessions
People who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods:
- Loss of interest
- Relief/sudden improvement
Other warning signs include certain statements, behaviors or moods (see factbox). Out of all of the signs, hopelessness is the common pathway to suicide.
“That hopelessness feeling is the big thing to watch for,” Francone said.
Ask the right questions
If you recognize warning signs in a friend or loved one, Francone said it’s important to ask the suicide question without imparting any judgment. Using the word “commit” could make a person feel like they’re committing a sin, for example. Francone also recommends never using the word “complete.”
“There’s no place for judgment when talking to someone in crisis,” she said.
Francone’s best advice is to come right out and ask a person very directly:
- Are you thinking about killing yourself?
- Are you thinking about ending your life?
- Are you thinking about dying by suicide?
“Don’t ask, ‘Are you thinking about hurting yourself?’ — that’s very different than ending your life,” Francone said. “Ask the question directly and appropriately. Most of the time, people will be forthcoming.”
We all have so-called “life buckets” filled with the good and the bad. For someone in crisis, their buckets are full of the hard, yucky stuff, Francone said. They need the space to be able to dump that stuff out to be able to receive the good things again.
It’s important to listen to every person to understand what got them to feel this way. That’s where trained crisis counselors at Open Heart Advocates come in.
“We listen to them to understand so we can connect them to the right resources,” she said.