It is difficult to identify all of the factors that lead a person to attempt or commit suicide as there are often many, including interpersonal, environmental, biological, psychological, and societal impacts. Some of these deaths have more obvious catalysts, such as traumatic emotional life events or a history of depression, but many come as a shock to their family and loved ones. The ultimate goal, preventing suicide, can only come after understanding who is at risk and identifying the signs.
First, before we get into the nitty gritty of such a morbid topic, let’s define some terms.
Suicide– harming oneself with the intent to die and resulting in death
Suicidal ideation– thoughts of committing suicide.
Suicide attempt– It is an attempt at suicide with the intent to die that results in survival
Who is at risk of suicide?
Suicide can effect any age, race, or socioeconomic status, but can vary. The highest rates are among native Americans and non-Hispanic white populations. Those that live in rural areas also have higher rates of suicide. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10-34, fourth leading for ages 35-44, and fifth leading for ages 45-54.
Those that are most at risk have suffered injury or violence, including bullying, child abuse, or sexual violence. Veterans, LGBTQ individuals, and those in certain industries, such as construction, have higher average rates of suicide as well.
Recognizing the Signs of Suicide
Those that commit suicide may show several of these signs or they may not show any at all. Some people may have an elaborate plan and some suicides are more impulsive. Everyone is an individual so their actions will be unique. If you are concerned that someone you love is going to harm themselves, talk to them and get help if needed.
Signs of Suicide:
- Talking about harming or killing themself
- Electronic searches for ways to hurt themself
- Looking for ways to kill themselves (ie. buying a gun)
- Talking about feeling trapped
- Talking about feeling in pain
- New o increased drug or alcohol use
- Self harming behavior (ie cutting)
- Being anxious or agitated
- Giving away items, especially cherished ones
- Withdrawing or isolating
- Mood swings
- Talking about being a burden
- Reckless behavior
Protective factors are individual, relationship, community, and societal factors that help in preventing suicide and suicidal attempts. According to the CDC, these include:
- Effective coping and problem-solving skills
- Moral objections to suicide
- Strong and supportive relationships with partners, friends, and family
- Connectedness to school, community, and other social institutions
- Availability of quality and ongoing physical and mental health care
- Reduced access to lethal means
Preventing suicide can be accomplished in a variety of ways. Normalizing talking about mental health, providing easy access to a mental health professional, having access to depression medications and health care in general, being involved in sports, church events, or volunteering, and being willing to discuss suicide and having an open ear.
Those that are feeling depressed and/or suicidal should not have access to lethal means of self-harm, including guns, knives, and medications. Suicide and attempts can be well-planned or they can be impulsive, so you want to remove access to items that can be used for self-harm.
Those that may be more at risk are those that have suffered violence, possibly from sources that should have been supportive, such as family, school, and church. If these sources are not available, professional resources are also available. Check out American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for more information.
How To Support A Grieving Loved One
It can be hard to know the best way to console a friend or relative who is grieving. If it seems that nothing you can do or say can help, don’t give up. You can’t take the pain away or bear the burden yourself, but your presence is more important than you may realize. Accept that you can’t fix the situation or make your friend or relative feel better. Instead, just be present and offer hope and a positive outlook toward the future. Recognize that grief is a gradual process and that you may not know how to support a grieving loved one. Read on for some suggestions.