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Suicide Prevention Month: 3 Tips for Helping Loved Ones

Mental illness is one of our nation’s greatest public health issues, with suicide being the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Suicide, addiction, and depression are often intertwined as co-occurring disorders. It’s a vicious cycle that is hard to escape. Individuals struggling with a mental health diagnosis often seek relief by using drugs or alcohol, which can exacerbate symptoms and may progress to a substance use disorder. People struggling with suicidal thoughts often feel like their problems cannot be solved and there is no other way out.

This Suicide Prevention Month, we’re sharing 3 tips for identifying someone struggling with suicidal thoughts.

  1. Know The Warning Signs

The topic of suicide is frightening for many people, but not intervening can have devastating consequences. Suicide is often described as a permanent solution to temporary problems.

Suicidal ideation can start out small with thoughts like, “I wish I wasn’t here” or “nothing matters.” Over time, these thoughts grow into more intense and dangerous desires. Other warning signs of someone struggling with suicidal thoughts include an increase in drug and alcohol use, aggressive behavior, withdrawal from loved ones, mood swings, and impulsive and reckless behavior.

In a lot of cases, someone who has made the decision to end their life may take additional steps, such as giving their belongings away, organizing personal and legal papers, and tying up loose ends. They might even express vague “goodbye” statements to friends and family.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 46% of people who die by suicide have struggled with at least one mental health condition. In many cases, substance misuse plays a factor as does a family history of mental illness, a history of trauma or abuse, prolonged stressful periods of time, and recent tragedy or loss.

  1. Prepare for a Crisis

If you know someone is struggling with suicidal thoughts, preparation is key to preventing a crisis. Items to include while planning for suicide prevention can include:

  • Phone numbers for mental health professionals, healthcare providers, friends, and family
  • Phone numbers to a crisis line, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • The individual’s mental health diagnoses, medical history, and history of drug and/or alcohol addiction
  • A list of triggers and events of the past that may be a factor in the current crisis (include previous events of psychosis or suicide attempts)

Having these notes available about yourself or about a loved one can save a life and help provide greater context for mental health professionals.

People struggling with suicidal thoughts can benefit from psychiatric services as well. Before making any life changing decisions, consider speaking to a therapist or psychiatrist to navigate these scary thoughts. Time and help do heal even the deepest wounds, whether it’s talk therapy, medication or rehabilitation.

  1. Navigating Tough Discussions

Crises such as suicide attempts can feel incredibly overwhelming for the victim and their loved ones. Following the initial shock of the event, a flood of questions often follows. In some cases, warning signs can go unnoticed until after a crisis has occurred. Like any other health related crisis, a mental health emergency should be addressed quickly and effectively.

When suicide is attempted or another mental health crisis occurs, it can leave loved ones feeling unprepared and confused about what steps to take next. NAMI’s resource guide, “Navigating a Mental Health Crisis: A NAMI Resource Guide for Those Experiencing a Mental Health Emergency,” details a number of ways to approach an open discussion with someone you know who is struggling with suicidal thoughts:

  • Talk openly and honestly. Don’t be afraid to ask questions like: “Do you have a plan for how you would kill yourself?”
  • Remove means such as guns, knives or stockpiled pills
  • Calmly ask simple and direct questions, like “Can I help you call your psychiatrist?”
  • Express support, concern and patience
  • Don’t argue, threaten or raise your voice
  • Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong
  • If you’re nervous, try not to fidget or pace

Lastly, let your loved one know that suicide is not the answer, that they are loved, valued and validated. Mental illness is nobody’s fault and help is always available.

If you or a loved one is struggling with a mental health disorder, drug and/or alcohol addiction, Spectrum Health Systems is here to help. Our team of licensed mental health clinicians and psychiatrists can help you on the road to a healthy and happy life. Call us today at 1-877-MyRehab.

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