Warning Signs of Suicide and Tips to Help Prevent It
How to Recognize and Prevent Suicide
Ninety percent of people who die by suicide have a mental disorder at the time of their deaths. While there is no single cause for suicide, major depression, bipolar disorder and other mental disorders can increase a person’s risk of suicide.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide most often occurs when a stressor becomes greater than a person’s coping abilities. For many, medication or therapy can help address the mental disorders that put people at risk for suicide.
Mental health resources, education and awareness, however, help all individuals—not just those with mental disorders—recognize warning signs and prevent suicide. Two suicide prevention and mental health advocates recently spoke at Baptist Memorial Health Care’s Healthy Living Speaker Series to raise awareness about suicide and suicide prevention in the Mid-South.
Acknowledging Mental and Emotional Challenges
As a successful railroad sales and marketing executive, Roquita Coleman-Williams often receives requests to speak about her path to professional success after growing up in one of the poorest areas in Memphis, Tennessee. Coleman-Williams feels her ability to navigate personal challenges and mental health played an important role in achieving professional success. As a young, single mother, Coleman-Williams questioned her ability to properly raise and care for her infant son. Her stress, exhaustion and self-doubt led her to attempt suicide twice before seeking help.
Eventually Coleman-Williams started Storealities, a project to help other women by collecting their stories about mental health.
“I wanted to share my own story and some of the traumas I had experienced to let women know there is a positive reality on the other side,” said Coleman-Williams.
Addressing Past Trauma
For Coleman-Williams, addressing mental health involved working through past trauma.
“No matter how the circumstances change externally, trauma is a living organism moving in your body and your space,” said Coleman-Williams. “And it shows up in ways we can’t always predict or connect.”
Health care professionals define trauma as a horrific event beyond the scope of normal human experience. A traumatic experience may range from a car accident, sexual violence and physical abuse to the sudden loss of a loved one. According to the Centre for Suicide Prevention, trauma can result in alcoholism, depression, insomnia, suicide attempts or relationship problems.
The risk of suicide increases in people that have experienced trauma.
“People struggling with trauma often feel disconnected from others,” said Mike LaBonte, executive director of the Memphis Crisis Center. “They feel alone and need people around who are supportive and willing to listen.”
Recognizing Signs of Suicide
It is important to recognize the signs of suicide to prevent someone from taking his or her life.
For example, a change in behavior or the presence of entirely new behaviors may signal that a person is considering suicide. Some of these behaviors include using drugs or alcohol, withdrawing from family or friends, sleeping too much or too little, giving away possessions and meeting with people to say ‘good-bye.’
Similarly, if a person talks about killing themselves, feeling hopeless or not having anything to live for, he or she may be communicating suicidal thoughts.
“I always take suicide talk seriously,” said LaBonte. “We need to be paying attention to people who are reaching out for help in that way.”
If you notice friends or family members engaging in suicidal talk or behavior, the Memphis Crisis Center recommends you do the following:
- Listen to them
- Show them compassion
- Offer to help them with everyday tasks
- Find professional help for them
- Check on them
- Encourage them to stick with treatment
Suicide Prevention Resources
Confidential and 24-hour access to mental health help and information can effectively prevent suicide. As the local affiliate of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the Memphis Crisis Center assists individuals contemplating suicide. The lifeline (1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-273-TALK) connects people with services that assist with the immediate situation and organizations that provide long-term recovery resources.
“Often, we’re able to break down barriers—like shame, fear and stigma—that prevent people from accessing services,” said LaBonte. “People may not go directly to a particular agency. Instead, they call a hotline and we can sympathize and encourage them to access the resources they need.”
The hotline allows health and crisis professionals to talk to people at their time of need. The ability to speak with someone honestly and openly about suicide makes a significant impact when a person is struggling with negative thoughts or emotions.
“At the time of my suicide attempts, no one would have attributed my personality, character, emotions, or moods to being depressed,” said Coleman-Williams. “So if you don’t look like you’re struggling, and you reach out for help, it is easy to get dismissed.”
Hotline volunteers work with callers to provide collaborative problem-solving, crisis intervention, safety planning and a connection to community resources.
“What we do best can be described as emotional first aid,” said LaBonte.