TRIGGER WARNING: This post speaks of suicide and death and may trigger extreme feelings. If you, or anyone you know, is having thoughts of harming themselves or anyone else, please dial 911. More information on suicide and suicide prevention can be found at http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
When death comes it leaves a hole in its wake. A life taken, whether it was anticipated or in the flash of a moment, is never easy to take in. In the span of a single year, my previous workplace lost three of our members. It was the last one, though, that sparked more thoughts and very different reactions than the others.
On September 10, 2019, a young man lost his life in the line of duty; On Jul 14, 2020, another young man lost his life in a car accident; And on September 10, 2020, yet another young man lost his life outside of the line of duty.
When you’re in the military there is always an investigation when death is involved. What happened? Why did it happen? How do we keep it from happening again? But when it comes to suicide, the answers are not so easy.
You see, the last young man to lose his life actually took matters into his own hands. It was not an accident, and unfortunately, it was not completely unexpected. He had been in battle with himself for years. Sometimes you can do everything the book tells you to do, and offer someone all the resources available, and it will still not be enough. Some people are just more determined than their friends and family are able to overcome.
BUT… that doesn’t mean we should give up. With national suicide on the rise each year and the age of suicide dropping lower and lower, it is up to us, the friends and family, to do our best to save those around us and get them the help that they need. Sometimes all it takes is an ear, and other times we need to seek professional help.
Keep reading for suicidal warning signs, risk factors, how to seek help, and what emotions are expected.
Common Suicidal Warning Signs
NOTE: These are just some of the common warning signs in individuals who are suicidal or show suicidal ideation. If you notice any of these symptoms, please seek professional medical or mental health support.
- Dramatic changes in one’s behavior or mood. If someone is feeling suicidal, a change in their behavior does not always lean towards a depressive state. Sometimes a person will want to have a happy last memory and behave unusually outgoing or friendly and even seem like they’re not in danger of harming themselves at all.
- A sense of hopelessness or no sense of a future. A person who is thinking of ending their life may not speak in future tense. They may make remarks such as “I don’t think too much about the future” or “I don’t see the point of me… [fill in the blank].” These phrases, depending on the context, can be a warning signal that this person doesn’t see themselves living past a certain point.
- Negative self-identification/feeling like a burden to others. A common theme in suicidal thoughts is that the world would be a better place without you. Feeling like a burden to those you love or feeling like you aren’t good enough are strong feelings that can quickly spiral out of control and leave a person feeling as if they are no good for this world.
- Isolating oneself or pulling away from close friends and family. Probably one of the most difficult parts for someone contemplating suicide is leaving behind loved ones. It is much easier for them to pull away emotionally so that they don’t feel bad about what they are taking away.
- Giving away belongings. One of the last things someone will do is to give away their things, especially items that hold any kind of sentimental value. They want to know that these items that mean something to them are given a nice home and taken care of once they are gone.
- Articulating suicidal thoughts. Someone who is idealizing suicide will not typically say “I will be taking my life in the very near future.” There are other, more subjective phrases to listen for. Muttering “I wonder what they’ll say about me when I’m gone.” in passing or upon hearing of someone else’s death is a huge red flag that this person is thinking of suicide.
Kids these days will say “I hate my life” or “I want to kill myself” in jest when they’ve had a bad day. This alone doesn’t mean they are suicidal, but when they are combined with any of the other warning signs above, or have risk factors in their lives, it can have deadly consequences. So what are some suicide risk factors?
Suicide Risk Factors
NOTE: This is not an all-inclusive list of risk factors for suicidal thoughts or ideation. If you believe that you, or someone you know, is at risk for harming themselves or someone else, please seek immediate medical or mental health support.
- Stressful life events. Life is full of stresses like divorce, financial problems, or even trouble with the law. Even smaller stressors such as rejection, significant life changes, and bullying can produce suicidal thoughts when they are prolonged or build upon each other.
- Alcohol/substance abuse. Anyone who is addicted to drugs and alcohol is even more at risk for harming themselves or others due to the absence of inhibitions. Persons who are under the influence have less control over their thoughts and may do dangerous or harmful things intentionally or unintentionally. Additionally, persons who are afflicted with depressive thoughts may turn to drugs and alcohol to mask their feelings. The danger of doing so is that drugs and alcohol are natural depressants that can exacerbate despondent thoughts.
- Exposure to or previous attempts of suicide. Being witness to or hearing of suicide does not give a person suicidal thoughts, however, if someone is already having those thoughts they may be more likely to take action after seeing the outcome of someone who was successful and the bereavement of others over the loss of that person. Also, a person who has previously attempted suicide is more likely to try again until success, or until adequate mental help has been provided.
What should you do if you notice any warning signs and/or risk factors in someone you know?
- Ask questions. If you notice someone acting differently, or displaying any warning signs, try to engage in a conversation with that person and ask direct questions while being delicate about the subject. Some examples include:
- Have you ever thought about hurting yourself before?
- Have you ever thought the world would be better without you?
- Do you ever feel like a burden to your friends/family?
- Seek professional help. If you feel there is immediate danger, dial 911 and don’t leave the person alone. You may also call, or encourage the person to call, a suicide hotline. The FCC has designated 988 as the new (USA) nationwide number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to be completed by July 2022. In the meantime please continue to share 1-800-273-TALK (8255) with anyone wishing to connect to the Lifeline. 988 is NOT CURRENTLY ACTIVE nationally and may not connect callers to the Lifeline.
- Be encouraging. No matter how awkward it may seem, telling someone how much they are cared for and how much good they have done may be lifesaving. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, “Suicide most often occurs when stressors and health issues converge to create an experience of hopelessness and despair.” Being that person’s advocate can give them a better glimpse of how they are perceived in other people’s eyes.
Unfortunately, after seeing all the warning signs and getting professional help, sometimes it’s not enough and suicide will happen. And no matter how close of a relationship you had with a person that took their life, there is a range of emotions that go along with it.
How am I supposed to feel?
There is no right answer to how someone should feel or what emotions to expect when someone takes their life. There can often be a decent amount of time that lapses before suicidal actions take place. In that time people and relationships can grow and change. However, losing someone can also bring up old, fond memories of someone you have since lost touch with. In any case, every emotion is still very real, and very valid.
I can only speak from my personal experience, but in the past, there has been this (almost) necessity to feel anger towards someone lost from suicide. How could they be so selfish? Thankfully, research and education have shown that those who battle with suicide are usually battling other thoughts and mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Having multiple afflictions can make a person feel not in control of their own mind or body, which only intensifies the feeling of despair. In some cases, thoughts of suicide come up after personal traumas and that is the only way that person can think of to escape reliving a terrible moment in their life. Additionally, there may be other mental illnesses that aren’t being addressed that can lead to suicide and suicide ideation.
To read more on suicide prevention, please visit the links below. If you, or someone you know, is having thoughts of harming themselves or others, please contact the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).