How to recognize warning signs of suicide
Anyone around us can be suffering from mental health issues. They might even be considering suicide. Stephanie Berg, MD, Prisma Health Behavioral Care Day Treatment psychiatrist, said the brain is just like any other organ in the body, and it gets sick, too.
“Depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, substance use disorder – these are brain illnesses, just like any other illness in the body,” she said. “Just like diabetes is a disease of the pancreas and COPD is a disease of the lungs, we’d like to see it become more acceptable to talk about mental illness as a disease of the brain and take away the stigma around it.”
What are the risk factors?
In a study from the Centers for Disease Control, it was found that more than half of the people who died by suicide had not been diagnosed with mental illness, an important risk factor. Other risk factors include:
- Health issues, including a substance abuse problem, chronic health issues, and people with history of traumatic brain injury.
- Access to lethal means, such as firearms or stockpiled pills.
- Increased stress, such as relationship difficulties, financial troubles, employment difficulties, or legal problems.
- Life history factors, such as history of suicide attempts, family history of suicide, and history of childhood trauma, including abuse.
- A feeling of disconnection from society, family or friends.
What are the warning signs?
Dr. Berg said to look for cues that someone may be thinking about suicide. They include:
- Talking about death, hopelessness, being a burden, and how much he or she hurts either emotionally or physically.
- A change in behavior, such as substance use (which causes impulsivity, depression and anxiety, decreases inhibitions, and causes alienation of relationships), planning for suicide, isolating or severing ties, giving possessions and money away, change in sleep patterns, or irritability.
- Mood changes such as depression, anxiety, lack of interest, agitation, but also relief or sudden mood change due to decision to act on suicidal thoughts.
If you are worried about yourself or someone else, Dr. Berg said there are ways you can help. Here are some steps you can take:
- Don’t be afraid to ask. You won’t put the idea of dying by suicide in his or her head. Listen, be nonjudgmental, and help them focus on reasons to live.
- Keep them safe. Remove lethal means such as firearms or pills.
- Be present. Really listen when someone is talking to you about it.
- Help them connect. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 (the three-digit dialing code that launched July 2022).
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