How to recognize the warning signs of suicide: Be prepared to help by knowing these 5 things

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(Good Things Utah) – There may be times in your life or the life of your loved ones where there is a struggle to find ways to manage a difficult emotional situation or life stressor. The Utah Crisis Line, in association with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, is here to provide compassionate support during difficult times and refer anyone in need of mental health services.

There is an ever-increasing need for mental health treatment in Utah, especially for youth. Close to one in five Utah adults experience poor mental health and demand for youth services is increasing rapidly. It’s more important than ever to be able to recognize the warning signs of suicide to identify possible risk factors.

Some warning signs may help you determine if a loved one is at risk for suicide, especially if the behavior is new, has increased, or seems related to a painful event, loss, or change. If you or someone you know exhibits any of these, seek help by calling the Lifeline.

Warning signs of suicide

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
  • Looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Extreme mood swings

Risk factors for suicide

  • Mental disorders, particularly mood disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and certain personality disorders
  • Alcohol and other substance use disorders
  • Hopelessness
  • Impulsive and/or aggressive tendencies
  • History of trauma or abuse
  • Major physical illnesses, chronic pain
  • Previous suicide attempt(s)
  • Family history of suicide
  • Job or financial loss
  • Loss of relationship(s)
  • Easy access to lethal means
  • Local clusters of suicide

How you can help prevent suicide

If someone you know is struggling emotionally or having a hard time,  you can be the difference in getting them the help they need. Here are 5 things that you should do if someone is showing warning signs of suicide:

1. Open up a dialogue. 

Ask specifically and directly about mental health and suicide. Ask about feelings in an attentive and nonjudgmental way, e.g.“what’s causing you to feel so bad?” “what would help you feel better?”

Talking about suicide does not increase the risk of suicide or the risk that someone will act on their thoughts of suicide.

2. Provide options for communication. 

Face-to-face conversations can be uncomfortable. Texting, email, and instant messaging can be very helpful ways for teens to feel more comfortable talking about uncomfortable things, such as suicide.

This can also include suggesting options for alternative adults that they might feel more comfortable talking with. This might be another relative, coach, teacher, or counselor.

3. Remain calm

It’s understandably difficult to hear that your child might be having suicidal thoughts, but they are looking to you for help, support, and guidance in how to navigate this. Becoming visibly panicked or frightened can communicate the wrong message to teens.

This could possibly lead them to feel that they have caused you to become upset, that they need to take it upon themselves to figure out their problems, or even that they need to help comfort you.

4. Work together

Ask how you can help. If they aren’t sure, you can make some suggestions about seeking therapy or obtaining other resources such as SafeUT. They might even just want someone present with them.

5. Alleviate isolation

Sometimes a reaction to learning about suicidal thoughts is to take away potential resources such as technology. In many cases, technology can be a lifeline—especially when considering outlets such as SafeUT. Connection to others, in general, is very important at this time, and parents can play a helpful role in facilitating more connections with friends and family.

Call the Utah Crisis Line at HMHI in partnership with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or download the SafeUT app for additional resources.

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