"I don't feel life is worth living." "There's no
way out of my pain and problems." "It would be easier if I killed
myself." It's scary when a loved one expresses suicidal thoughts.
But if you can recognize the signs of suicide and offer support and intervention,
when needed, your help can potentially save the life of a family member
or friend, says
Alexander Fan, MD, a psychiatrist at
"More than 41,000 people commit suicide each year in America,"
Dr. Fan states. "For some, the act seems to take place out of the
blue, but for others, there are certain cues or precipitating events that
can be forerunners of an attempt at suicide."
In observance of National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, Dr. Fan offers
his insights on what you should know to help loved ones in crisis:
Know the Warning Signs
When a friend says he wants to kill himself, that is an obvious sign of
a problem and should not be taken lightly. "But there are other behaviors
that should also raise a red flag if you see them," Dr. Fan emphasizes.
- Increased drug or alcohol use
- Mood swings, including aggression or despair
- Feelings of overwhelming guilt, shame or hopelessness
- Retreating from social activities or withdrawing from friends and family
- Giving away personal belongings
- A preoccupation with death, whether spoken or in writing
- Interest in finding a gun, pills or other tools that could be used in a suicide
Know the Risk Factors
"People contemplate suicide for many different reasons that are intensely
personal to them, and many factors can come into play," Dr. Fan says.
"However, some variables carry a higher risk." Among them:
- Family history of suicide
- A recent tragedy or loss
- A history of abuse
- A mental illness such as depression
- Substance abuse
- Access to guns
- A severe medical condition that causes a great deal of stress
- Social isolation
Know When to Take Action
"If your loved one has any of the high-risk factors, don't hesitate
to speak up," Dr. Fan advises. "You should assist him in finding
a facility that treats mental health issues. For instance, St. Joseph
Health Mission Hospital has a Mental Health & Wellness program that
offers inpatient or outpatient care with individualized treatment. That
can include medication or psychotherapy such as cognitive behavior therapy,
where the patient can examine the roots of harmful thoughts and learn
coping skills and new thought patterns."
However, if your loved one makes statements about suicide, that is a psychiatric
emergency and he should be taken to an emergency room for immediate treatment,
Dr. Fan declares. "Statements about suicide are an emergency whether
they are just fantasies or actual plans. If a suicide attempt seems imminent,
call 911 so your friend or relative can be taken to the hospital for an
emergency psychiatric evaluation."
Finally, if your loved one has attempted suicide before, have a crisis
plan in place in case you see a recurrence of worrisome behavior. "Write
down the numbers for all medical professionals treating your friend or
family member, contact information for other friends who can help, and
the number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, (800) 273-TALK
(8255)," Dr. Fan recommends. "It can also help to list the location
of the closest emergency room, medications, any relevant diagnosis or
health history, and prior suicide attempts." Caregivers can find
assistance through the National Alliance on Mental Illness HelpLine at
(800) 950-NAMI (6264).
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