Here's some useful information about what to look out for if you are worried that someone may be thinking of taking their own life. It comes from the Suicide Risk Assessment page of the Light Beyond's grief library:
What are the warning signs?
Suicide prevention experts have initiated a host of risk factors and signs to watch for when assessing the likelihood of suicide. Most experts agree that more times than not, suicide victims leave clues as to their intentions, often referred to as "cries for help." These clues can be giving away possessions, good-bye notes, comments like "You won't have me to kick around anymore" and violent drawings. In addition, a suicidal person may exhibit behavior changes such as:
- a change in appearance or hygiene
- change in appetite
- sleep disturbance
- change in work or school performance
- mood disturbance
- risky behavior, and
- pre-occupation with death.
If you are a friend or relative of a person you believe may be in trouble and contemplating taking his or her own life, it is wise to heed these warning signs and err on the side of caution. All too often we hear from family members or close friends the one sentence we hate to hear: "I didn't think he meant it."
The most important risk factors when assessing suicide
The professional tool utilized in suicide prevention is called a "risk assessment." A recent survey sent randomly to 500 practicing psychologists revealed their views of the most important risk factors in assessing suicide. They included, but are not limited to:
- the medical seriousness of previous attempts
- a history of suicide attempts
- acute suicidal ideation
- severe hopelessness
- attraction to death
- family history of suicide
- acute overuse of drugs or alcohol, and
- loss and separation.
Triggering events or situations may include medication issues and interactions, social triggers and events like the loss of a loved one, ostracism, divorce, trauma, anniversaries, media violence and change in employment status. If someone you know is talking about suicide and especially if he or she has a plan of how they might take their life, always let someone know. If you are concerned about someone you love, a good place to start is by talking to them and telling them that you care. Giving someone hope and letting them know they are loved goes a long way in helping suicidal people. Professional help is available through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
What else can you do if you are really worried about someone?
A very useful source of practical information, which is aimed at the suicidal themselves, is the Suicide: Read This First page. If you know of someone who is feeling suicidal, try to get them to read this page; it will only take about five minutes. For those of us trying to prevent suicide, it also contains Handling a call from a suicidal person, a very helpful ten-point list that you can print out and keep near your phone or computer, and What can I do to help someone who may be suicidal?