If you are in a crisis and need help now, call 1.800.273.TALK (8255). This toll-free number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, every day. You may call for yourself or for someone you care about. Trained counselors will speak to you and help you with your crisis.
NOTE: The following information is from the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network.
Suicide does not discriminate. No age group, ethnicity or background is immune. Fortunately, many troubled individuals display behaviors that deliberately or inadvertently signal a suicidal intent. Recognizing the warning signs and learning what to do next may help save a life.
THE WARNING SIGNS
If you or someone you love is showing numerous or severe warning signs like these, seek professional help at once:
- Talking about suicide, death and/or no reason to live
- Preoccupied with death and dying
- Withdrawn from friends and/or social activities
- Experience of a recent severe loss (especially a relationship) or the threat of a significant loss
- Recent experience or fear of a situation of humiliation or failure
- Drastic changes in behavior
- Loss of interest in hobbies, work, school, etc.
- Preparation for death by making out a will (unexpectedly) and final arrangements
- Giving away prized possessions
- Previous history of suicide attempts, as well as violence and/or hostility
- Taking unnecessary risks; reckless and/or impulsive behavior
- Loss of interest in personal appearance
- Increased use of alcohol and/or drugs
- General hopelessness
- Unwilling to connect with potential helpers
Remember, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255 provides access to trained counselors 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
FEELINGS, THOUGHTS AND BEHAVIORS
Nearly all of us at some time in life think about suicide. Most of us decide to live because we realize that the crisis is temporary but death is not. On the other hand, those of us in the midst of a crisis often think we can’t escape our problems, and we feel an utter loss of control. Frequently, we:
- Can’t stop the pain
- Can’t think clearly
- Can’t make decisions
- Can’t see any way out
- Can’t sleep, eat or work
- Can’t get out of the depression
- Can’t make the sadness go away
- Can’t see the possibility of change
- Can’t see ourselves as worthwhile
- Can’t get someone’s attention
- Can’t seem to get control
WHAT DO YOU DO?
If someone you care about shows the warning signs listed above, you can save that person’s life by stepping in and getting involved.
- Be aware. Learn the warning signs (see the list above).
- Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.
- Ask if they’re thinking about suicide.
- Be direct. Talk openly and freely about suicide.
- Be willing to listen. Allow for expressions of feelings and accept those feelings.
- Don’t judge. Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether their feelings are good or bad. Don’t lecture about the value of life.
- Don’t dare them to do it.
- Don’t give advice by making decisions for someone else or tell them to behave differently.
- Don’t ask “why.” This encourages defensiveness.
- Offer empathy, not sympathy. In other words, put yourself in their shoes.
- Don’t act shocked. This creates distance.
- Don’t let them swear you to secrecy. Seek support.
- Offer hope that alternatives are available, but do not offer glib reassurance; it only proves that you don’t understand.
- Take action. Remove any guns, knives, pills or other easy ways to commit suicide.
- Get help from a doctor, pastor or other close family spiritual leader, or an agency that specializes in suicide prevention, such as the Memphis Crisis Center at 901.274.7477 or memphiscrisiscenter.org.
FACTS ABOUT SUICIDE*
There are a lot of misconceptions about who may be at risk for suicide; about when, how and why people might consider killing themselves; and about how best to help yourself or someone else who’s thinking about suicide. Here are the facts:
- In the United States alone, someone dies by suicide once every 16 minutes.
- Nationally, suicide is the third-leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 24.
- Suicide is the ninth-leading cause of death (2007 data) in Tennessee, claiming over 850 lives per year. Roughly 100 of these are between the age of 10 and 24 — suicide is the third-leading cause of death within this age group.
- Nationally, suicide rates among youth (ages 15-24) have increased more than 200% in the last fifty years.
- The suicide rate is higher for the elderly (ages 85+) than for any other age group.
- Suicide is preventable. Most suicidal people desperately want to live; they just don’t see any way out of their problems.
- Most suicidal people give definite warning signs (see the list above), but people around them are often unaware of the warning signs or unsure what to do about them.
- Talking about suicide does not cause someone to become suicidal.
- Three times more women than men attempt suicide, but four times more men than women actually kill themselves.
- Firearms are the most common method of suicide, regardless of sex and race.
- Suicide cuts across ethnic, economic, social and age boundaries.
- Surviving family members not only suffer the loss of a loved one to suicide, but they are also at higher risk of suicide and emotional problems.
THE LINKS BETWEEN DEPRESSION AND SUICIDE
About two-thirds of the people who die by suicide are clinically depressed at the time of their deaths. One out of every sixteen people who are diagnosed with depression (about 7 out of every 100 diagnosed males and 1 out of every 100 diagnosed females) will eventually die by suicide.
The risk of suicide in people with major depression is about 20 times greater than in the general population. People who have had multiple episodes of depression are at greater risk for suicide than those who have had one episode. People who have a dependence on alcohol or drugs in addition to being depressed are at greater risk for suicide.
Learn more about depression and its symptoms.
Sources: Tennessee Department of Health, American Association of Suicidology.
MYTHS ABOUT SUICIDE*
Myth: “Only adults can get truly depressed.”
Fact: Kids as young as 8 or 9 can get severely depressed. Depression is epidemic among teens today.
Myth: “Depression is a weakness.”
Fact: Depression is a serious but treatable illness that has nothing to do with moral strength or weakness.
Myth: “Depression is mostly a white, middle-class problem.”
Fact: Depression is an “equal opportunity illness” that can affect anyone, regardless of race or socioeconomic level. Depression and suicide rates among young African-American males and Hispanic teenage girls in particular have dramatically increased in the past 20 years.
Myth: “Only depressed kids attempt suicide.”
Fact: Kids don’t have to be clinically depressed to have suicidal feelings or to attempt suicide. Even feeling extremely “bummed out” for a relatively short period of time can lead to impulsive suicide attempts. Nevertheless, a person who is clinically depressed for longer periods of time is at higher risk for attempting suicide.
Myth: “People who are depressed always feel sad.”
Fact: Other symptoms of depression can be irritability, lack of energy, change in appetite, substance abuse, restlessness, racing thoughts, reckless behavior, too much or too little sleep, or otherwise unexplained physical ailments.
Myth: “People who talk about suicide don’t kill themselves.”
Fact: People who are thinking about suicide usually find some way of communicating their pain to others — often by speaking indirectly about their intentions. Most suicidal people will admit to their feelings if questioned directly.
Myth: “There’s really nothing you can do to help someone who’s truly suicidal.”
Fact: Most people who are suicidal don’t really want their lives to end — they just want the pain to end. The understanding, support and hope that you offer can be the most important lifeline.
Myth: “Discussing suicide may cause someone to consider it or may make things worse.”
Fact: Asking someone if they’re suicidal will never give them an idea that they haven’t thought about already. Most suicidal people are truthful and relieved when questioned about their feelings and intentions. Doing so can be the first step in helping them to choose to live.
Myth: “Telling someone to cheer up usually helps.”
Fact: Trying to cheer someone up might make them feel even more misunderstood and ashamed of their thoughts and feelings. It’s important to listen well and take them seriously.
Myth: “It’s best to keep someone’s suicidal feelings a secret.”
Fact: Never, ever keep your or someone else’s suicidal thoughts and feelings a secret — even if you’re asked to do so. Friends never keep deadly secrets!
Myth: “If someone promised to seek help, your job is done.”
Fact: You need to make sure that any suicidal person stays safe until you can help them connect with a responsible adult.
Myth: “People who complete suicide always leave notes.”
Fact: Most people don’t leave notes.
Myth: “People who die from suicide don’t warn others.”
Fact: Out of 10 people who kill themselves, 8 have given definite clues to their intentions. They leave numerous clues and warnings to others, although some of their clues may be nonverbal or difficult to detect.
Myth: “People who talk about suicide are only trying to get attention. They won’t really do it.”
Fact: WRONG! Few people commit suicide without first letting someone else know how they feel. Those who are considering suicide give clues and warnings as a cry for help. In fact, most seek out someone to rescue them. Over 70% who do threaten to carry out a suicide either make an attempt or complete the act.
Myth: “Once someone has already decided on suicide, nothing is going to stop them. Suicidal people clearly want to die.”
Fact: Most of the time, a suicidal person is ambivalent about the decision; they are torn between wanting to die and wanting to live. Most suicidal individuals don’t want death; they just want the pain to stop. Some people, seeing evidence of two conflicting feelings in the individual, may interpret the action as insincerity: “He really doesn’t want to do it; I don’t think he is serious.” People’s ability to help is hindered if they don’t understand the common suicidal characteristic of ambivalence.
Myth: “Once the emotional state improves, the risk of suicide is over.”
Fact: The highest rates of suicide occur within about three months of an apparent improvement in a severely depressed state. Therefore, an improvement in emotional state doesn’t mean a lessened risk.
Myth: “After a person has attempted suicide, it is unlikely he/she will try again.”
Fact: People who have attempted suicide are very likely to try again — 80% of the people who die from suicide have made at least one previous attempt.
Myth: “You shouldn’t mention suicide to someone who’s showing signs of severe depression. It will plant the idea in his/her mind, and he/she will act on it.”
Fact: Many depressed people have already considered suicide as an option. Discussing it openly helps the suicidal person sort through the problems and generally provides a sense of relief and understanding. It is one of the most helpful things you can do.
Myth: “If someone survives a suicide attempt, he/she wasn’t serious about ending his/her life.”
Fact: The attempt in and of itself is the most important factor, not the effectiveness of the method.
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