It can be difficult to talk about suicide, but it is necessary. Being aware of the risk factors, warning signs, and prevention strategies for suicide is especially important in addiction recovery. This is because substance abuse and its associated changes and challenges can be both risk factors and warning signs for suicide.
Knowing the Signs and Risk Factors
Fortunately, suicide is preventable, and being familiar with signs and risk factors can help you prevent a tragedy.
Suicide Risk Factors
Someone may be more at risk of suicide if they have:
- Previously attempted suicide
- Been exposed to someone else attempting suicide or have a history of suicide in the family
- Lived with a mental health condition or struggle with substance abuse
- Been previously hospitalized for mental health reasons
- Lived with a chronic physical health condition
- Experienced significant events like divorce or loss
- Been recently incarcerated
- Access to weapons or other dangerous means.
Suicide Warning Signs
Having these risk factors does not ensure that someone will attempt suicide. They should, however, make you more aware of potential warning signs. These include:
- Expressing a desire to die or kill oneself
- Indicating feelings of hopelessness, being trapped, out of options, or not having a reason to live
- Expressing feelings of guilt or concern about being a burden to others
- Engaging in risky behavior
- Withdrawing and isolating from other
- Acquiring means of killing oneself
- Saying goodbye, giving away belongings, creating a will
- Displaying changes in sleeping and eating patterns
- Increased substance use
- A sudden, unexplained shift in mood from intense sadness to happiness.
Preventing Suicide and Acting in Crisis
If you have noticed some of these signs in your loved one, you can take action. One of the first steps you can take is to simply ask, “Are you thinking of suicide?” Many people worry that doing this will actually introduce the idea of suicide to someone who has not considered it before. This can feel risky, as you might be concerned that you are making the situation worse.
In reality, asking someone if they are thinking about ending their life will not cause someone to start considering it. Being direct and straightforward can help your loved one get help. Furthermore, asking for help is hard. Bringing this up to your loved one takes the burden off of them.
Listening Is a Good Place to Start
If it is the case that your loved one is considering suicide, it is important to stay calm. This can be a distressing time for you, but it is also uncomfortable and painful for your loved one. You may feel scared and maybe even frustrated at the situation. Try to avoid any responses that indicate that the person is wrong in how they are feeling. For example, don’t tell your loved one that their problems are not that bad or that they just need to think more positively. Feeling suicidal is not a choice. It stems from feeling like one’s problems are completely insurmountable, even if they look manageable from the outside.
By making yourself a nonjudgmental listener, you are becoming a partner in your loved one’s recovery. Asking if they are comfortable sharing their feelings with you can provide an outlet for thoughts and emotions they may have previously not been able to express. Indicate to them that you take them seriously and believe that what they are going through is painful and deserves attention. Ask if they know how you can best help them or support them.
Keeping Everyone Safe
It is important to determine whether your loved one is in imminent danger of suicide. This would be the case if they not only have thoughts of suicide but also have a plan and the means to carry out that plan. If this describes your loved one’s situation, taking action immediately is crucial. Make sure to stay with your loved one during this time. Keep the environment calm and free from potential hazards like sharp objects or toxic substances. Taking your loved one to the emergency room is an option if they are willing to go and you are able to do so safely.
If this is not an option, calling 911 can quickly connect you to the resources you need. Make sure to fully explain the situation to the dispatcher so that law enforcement has the appropriate information when they arrive. Ask if your police department has crisis intervention team (CIT) officers they can send. These individuals are specially trained to handle psychiatric emergencies.
Some people may experience suicidal thoughts without having the intention to act on them. It is still important to help your loved one get help if this is the case. Helping them to find mental health resources and encouraging them to keep up with receiving services can help prevent suicidal thoughts from becoming suicidal actions.
Outside of the context of a crisis, it can be a good time to work with your loved one on developing a safety plan. This is a concrete plan that will help your loved one to identify and utilize resources if a crisis situation does arise. A safety plan should be created with the help of a mental health professional.
What to Do if You Are Considering Suicide
If you are the one experiencing suicidal thoughts, there is help available. You can call or text 988 or visit their website to connect with the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline to receive free and confidential help. If you feel like you are in immediate danger, call 911 or go to your local hospital. Reaching out to your support system—such as your friends, family, and mental health treatment team—can also help during this time. If you have a safety plan in place, try to follow it and enlist the help of someone who is familiar with it.
If you are concerned that your loved one is at risk of suicide, it is vital to take quick and effective action. You and your family do not have to go through it alone. There is help available, and having the right people on your team can make a difference. It is especially critical to work with professionals who understand the specific needs of individuals with substance use disorder. Family-Centered Services is dedicated to providing comprehensive care to your whole family in the pursuit of recovery. Our services include individual and family therapy, a Family Recovery Program, case management, and more. Reach out to us at (509) 991-5822 to get started.