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Home > Health Topics > Healthy Outlook > Spotting the Signs of Suicide

Spotting the Signs of Suicide

Published by Contra Costa Times
Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011
By Mary Roy, LMFT

Several years ago, Fran noticed a co-worker who had experienced several losses. He was displaying signs of despair. Concerned but unsure how to react, Fran hesitated. Soon after, the co-worker killed himself.

We're not often put in a position to help someone who is thinking about taking his or her own life. Suicide can be an impulsive act, but it is preventable. Learning about the available resources and the warning signs will prepare you for a situation similar to the one described above.

In Contra Costa, about 120 people die by suicide every year. Single, caucasian men who reside in Central County are at highest risk.

Suicide is most often an act of despair, or attributed to an underlying mental illness. Pressures or a sudden loss, such as losing a job or a loved one or troubles with relationships, may play a significant role. The use of drugs or alcohol can worsen these feelings.

Warning signs such as depression, unusual behavior or isolation after a recent loss shouldn't be ignored. Consider another person whom I've recently had contact with. Tamara, a middle-age woman, began to feel as if there was no hope when trying to manage setback caused by her mental illness. Things built up for Tamara, and eventually she tried to kill herself by jumping off a bridge.

Tamara survived. With treatment, support from community organizations and friends, she was able to rebuild her life and work on her recovery. She found strength in her ability to help others and has devoted herself to helping others find meaning and purpose in their lives despite the challenges they face.

Like Fran's co-worker, a suicidal person might not ask for help. Many suicidal people do not want to die; they want the pain to go away. Take all cues seriously.

Common warning signs:
  • Talking about suicide and death
  • Depression and self-hatred
  • Helplessness and lack of hope for future
  • Saying goodbye or giving away possessions
  • Withdrawal
  • Risky behavior
Three important things you can do:
  1. Speak up: Put doubts aside and express concern. If you are able, listen and gain an understanding of their pain and their circumstance. Let them know they are not alone and you are available to help. Most importantly, do not lecture or judge the person. If you feel incapable of responding, offer to call the Crisis Center with them.
  2. Respond quickly: Evaluate the situation to see if the person has a plan and means to kill themselves. If the threat is imminent, call 911 or take the person to an emergency room. Remove any lethal objects. Do not leave the person alone until help arrives.
  3. Offer support: If a person is not in immediate danger, do your best to offer support and connect that person with professional help or help to organize a support network. Even after the risk passes, continue your support by letting them know you are there if they need to talk. Don't wait for the person to call, be proactive.

Ms. Roy is the Prevention and Early Intervention Coordinator for the Behavioral Health Division of Contra Costa Health Services.

Also of interest:

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