You never know when your help might be needed.
Each year, close to 800,000 people around the world die by suicide, according to the World Health Organization, and for every suicide, there are many more people who attempt it.
The thing is, suicide is preventable. And while prevention is a complex issue that involves many different factors — like collaboration between healthcare providers, individuals, friends and family members, and treatment services — it can start with recognizing the warning signs and taking them seriously.
To help you understand the warning signs of suicide and the most responsible and helpful ways to respond (and maybe save a life), BuzzFeed Health talked to Daniel Reidenberg, PsyD, executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education and Eric Beeson, PhD, licensed counselor and professor at Counseling@Northwestern. Here's everything you should know.
Before we get started, here are the resources you should be aware of when dealing with a potentially suicidal person.
Just so we don't bury the lede, you can play a very important role in helping someone who is grappling with suicidal thoughts, but you're not a professional and you can only do so much. Your goal is to get a person the help they need; when, how, and what kind of help will differ from situation to situation (which we'll go over), but here is all the important stuff, right up top:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Crisis Text Line can be reached by texting HOME to 741741.
Suicide helplines outside the US can be found here.
911 is not just for obvious physical life-or-death emergency — it's a totally viable option if you’re not sure where to start and you need help now.
Primary care doctors are a great first step in a non-crisis situation for someone who doesn't have a therapist or counselor. Call their office and say, “I’m a patient (or friend of a patient) of so-and-so’s. This is what’s happening, what do you think I should do?” — which might mean making an appointment or utilizing another resource the office suggests.
You can learn about what other options are available in a mental health crisis here.
Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Intervening doesn’t always have to be about preventing an imminent suicide attempt. It can also be about connecting with someone and keeping them from getting to a worse place.
According to Beeson, suicide risk exists on a spectrum. “It’s a cumulative process of life experience after life experience, tied with biological predisposition to certain mental illness, tied to environmental and psychological factors,” he says. “There's not one event that 'pushes someone over the edge.' It's a continuum and we're all on it somewhere — some of us are just closer to a suicide death than others.”
So, that said, someone doesn't have to be on the far end of the continuum to show warning signs that you might pick up on — and you don't have to wait until someone seems to be an immediate suicide risk to reach out.
Charlotte Gomez / BuzzFeed / Via buzzfeed.com
You want to look at how many warning signs of suicide are present, since pretty much everyone shows one or another at some point.
This list of warning signs is important and necessary, but it can also be overwhelming. Because, well, they can apply to anyone, not just people who are suicidal.
“People increase their use of alcohol. People act recklessly. People withdraw. People isolate,” says Beeson. Instead of thinking about it like, Are these warning signs present? Beeson suggests asking, How many are present? How many of these things does a person do over the course of a day, a month, a year?
American Foundation For Suicide Prevention / Via afsp.org