Suicide prevention: Spotting the warning signs and getting help

Free services available to those in crisis

ORLANDO, Fla. – Suicide is never the answer and when it comes to preventing it, knowing the warning signs and the resources available to help could save a life.

Nearly 800,000 people choose to end their lives each year, according to the World Health Organization, and in many of those cases, the person grappled with the idea and exhibited troubling behavior long before taking any drastic measures.

That's why everyone should know when to seek help, whether it's for yourself or someone else.

Warning signs

While some may think that people who threaten to take their own life won't actually do it, that's not the case. In fact, Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, or SAVE, considers remarks of that nature to be a clear red flag. Other warning signs include:

  • Looking for a way to kill oneself.
  • Expressing hopelessness, feeling trapped, emptiness, unbearable pain, feeling as if they have no purpose or as if they are a burden to others.
  • Changes in behavior that include using drugs or alcohol more than usual, sleeping too. much or too little, withdrawing and/or displaying extreme mood swings.
  • Acting anxious, agitated or reckless.
  • Exhibiting rage or talking about seeking revenge.
  • Saying goodbye or suddenly feeling calm.

Risk factors

Along with the warning signs, SAVE notes that there are also certain risk factors to be aware of. Sometimes life events such as losing a job or ending a relationship, can push someone over the edge. Risk factors include:

  • A history of mental disorders, especially mood disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders and certain personality disorders.
  • Alcohol and other substance abuse issues.
  • Impulsive and/or aggressive tendencies.
  • History of trauma or abuse.
  • Major physical or chronic illnesses.
  • Previous suicide attempt or a family history of suicide.
  • Recent job, financial or relationship loss.
  • Easy access to lethal means.
  • Local suicide clusters.
  • Lack of social support and a lack of health care, particularly mental health and substance abuse treatment.
  • Exposure to others who have died by suicide.

Protective factors

Even if someone displays both warning signs and risk factors, that doesn't mean that they are beyond being helped. SAVE notes that having these protective factors in place can help a person to realize that they are not alone and things will get better, even if they're in their darkest hour. Protective factors to promote are:

  • Having clinical care for mental, physical and substance use disorders.
  • Providing access to a variety of clinical interventions.
  • Restricting access to highly lethal means of suicide.
  • Having strong support through family and community connections.
  • Support through ongoing medical and mental health care relationships.
  • Skills in problem-solving, conflict resolution and handling problems in a nonviolent way.

Ways to access help

There is no shame in getting help if you or someone you know is experiencing any warning signs mentioned above. If it's an emergency, call 911 immediately. If not, free services are available round the clock to anyone in crisis to receive care in a way that's confidential. They include:

  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours per day, seven days a week both by phone and through online chat. The number to call is 1-800-273-8255 or you can click here to chat with a counselor online. Spanish speakers can call 1-888-628-9454. Anyone who is worried about a friend or family member who seems to be expressing suicidal ideas can also call that number to seek advice.
  • The Trevor Project specializes in providing suicide crisis intervention and providing resources to LGBTQ youth. The TrevorLifeline is available 24/7 by calling 1-866-488-7386. Counselors are available through online chat or text seven days a week between 6 a.m. and 1 a.m. Begin by texting START to 678678.
  • Crisis Text Line offers help through texting all day, every day. Get started by texting HOME to 741741.
  • For those outside the U.S., click here to see a list of suicide prevention hotlines and resources provided International Association for Suicide Prevention or click here for information provided by Befrienders Worldwide.

Each of the resources mentioned above has trained counselors who will not judge you or make you feel guilty for seeking help. Making that call could save your life, so never hesitate to pick up the phone. If you're feeling apprehensive, you can click here for a full explainer on what to expect when calling a suicide prevention hotline.

Keep in mind, too, that the services mentioned above are always in need of donations and volunteers if you’re looking for a way to support their efforts.

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