Suicide is on the rise just about everywhere and is now the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. From 1999 through 2016, the rate grew in 49 states. On average 123 people commit suicide every day. For each one who succeeds, 25 more have tried.
Suicide devastates the lives of so many people who are left behind—friends and neighbors, family members and coworkers, classmates, teachers, and colleagues. And it’s heartbreaking to know that almost every suicide can be prevented. With the recent loss of celebrities, now might be the perfect time to educate yourself about suicide, become familiar with the warning signs, and learn about the many resources that are available if you or someone you know is contemplating suicide.
Since this can be a difficult subject, we’re opening a safe door to discuss it now, without shame or fear. Take as much time as you want to read this blog, and be sure to click on the links to get more information about the organizations that can help and people you can talk to.
How do you know if someone is considering suicide? “Most people who attempt it are internally dealing with conditions such as depression or PTSD,” explains Dr. Aron S. Wolf, Teladoc’s Senior Behavioral Health Consultant. “The individual may show a change in their behavior. They may become quieter, more withdrawn, or even sullen or angry with little or no provocation.”
Some of the following warning signs may seem obvious, but others not so much. We’ve listed them in three categories: talk, behavior, and mood.
- Talking or being fixated about suicide
- Saying they feel worthless or like a burden to others
- Saying things like, “everyone would be better off if I weren’t around” or “I just don’t want to be here anymore”
- Talking about not being able to stand the pain, whether the “pain” is physical or emotional
- Talking about having an accident
- Increasing their use of alcohol and/or drugs (prescription and recreational)
- Sleeping too much or not enough
- Researching ways to commit suicide, especially online
- Isolating themselves—withdrawing from friends, family
- Not doing activities they used to enjoy
- Visiting or calling people to “say goodbye”
- Giving away favorite possessions
- Acting aggressively
- Being tired to the point of fatigue
- “Playing” with dangerous objects, especially firearms
- Behaving recklessly (driving too fast, not obeying safety laws and precautions)
- “Daring” to do something potentially fatal under the guise of “excitement” or “fun”
- Humiliation or shame
- Not being able to get over a perceived “failure”
- Anger or agitation
- Sudden improvement in mood or sense of relief (which may indicate that a decision has been made)
While many of these signs may seem minor and are common with other emotional and mental health conditions, they all deserve attention. “People didn’t recognize anything was wrong when I started turning down offers to do things socially,” says Michael,1 a 31-year-old suicide survivor who was willing to tell his story with the hope that it can help others. “Eventually they stopped asking me to hang out. I called the guys now and then, but for the most part I remained in isolation on my couch,” Michael adds.
Then when a friend reached out to him, Michael shared his thoughts. His buddy, who had no idea what Michael had been going through, just assumed he needed space. He also may not have known that suicide is the second-leading cause of death for males between the ages of 10 and 34.
His friend responded by telling Michael how much he and their friends loved and trusted him. He also suggested to Michael that the despair he was feeling was only temporary. “He suggested that I ‘move a muscle, change a thought.’ So I got up and took a short walk around the block. It’s amazing how a brief walk could change my perspective just a little,” Michael says.
Every time he felt suicidal, Michael, who had been battling a chronic illness when the suicidal thoughts began, followed his friend’s advice to move and change his thoughts. He also began to count one thing that he could be grateful for each day, all because one friend took a moment to listen and care. “I realized how far off my thinking was when my friends started inviting me to show up just as I was, no matter how sad I felt.”
Michael also started thinking about other people who could use a phone call or a quick visit, which helped him get out of his own head. Today he is happily married and thankful that he didn’t take his own life.
What to do in the moment
Jennifer’s1 world was turned upside down when her daughter committed suicide. “I was shocked because we had just talked earlier in the day,” Jennifer remembers, “and she mentioned that she was going to talk with her psychiatrist the next day.” The loss of her daughter devastated Jennifer, her family, and her daughter’s soccer team. “To this day I miss my ‘friend,’” Jennifer says. “When I think of her, I also wonder if I could have helped her.”
Fighting through her pain, Jennifer visited the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website, afsp.org, as part of her healing process. She also attended support groups, where she and other survivors share their stories and help each other come to terms with their experience.
AFSP recommends these steps to help someone in danger:
- Call 911 immediately. You must take the situation seriously. You never want to be the person who thought someone was just being dramatic or trying to get attention.
- Do not leave the person alone. Stay with that person and let them know that it’s OK—they haven’t done anything wrong. Don’t even let them go into another room by themselves. If you must leave, have someone else come and stay with them before you go.
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. They can talk you through what to do until help arrives. They can also talk with the person in crisis. (Helpful tip: Program this number into your mobile phone or write it on a note and place it next to your work or home phone now. Give it an unusual ringtone such as “alarm” or “sonar” so that you’ll immediately recognize it if you get disconnected and Lifeline personnel have to call you back.)
- Remove dangerous objects. Take guns, cooking knives, prescription medications, and all alcohol out of the area.
- Comfort the person. Do your best to be calm yet caring. Try to reassure the person; tell them that you understand, and that they are not alone. It’s important to remember that at this moment, they’re in the biggest crisis of their lives and your only responsibility is to keep them safe until help arrives.
Dr. Wolf also says that you can contact the person’s medical provider or therapist if you know who they are. If the person is willing to let you take them to the hospital or their doctor, be loving but firm about getting them to get help. Also, you can let the person talk to you about how they’re feeling. “Even if they haven’t said anything about suicide, don’t be afraid to ask whether they’ve been thinking about it,” Dr. Wolf notes.
How to help yourself
First, we cannot stress enough that you are worth saving. You’ll probably never know how many people you have touched in a positive way throughout your life. You deserve to live. no matter how badly you feel. You are loved and cared for in ways you may not recognize right now.
If you feel that you have run out of options and that suicide is the only way to resolve a situation or relieve your pain, please call 911 or the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) now. You can reach out 24 hours a day, and trained people who truly care about you will answer and provide real help.
In addition to a local hotline or emergency department, help can come in the form of friends and family staying with you through a critical period. “The situation is almost never as dire or immediate as you may be feeling,” offers Dr. Wolf. “If you already have a counselor, contact them and tell them your concerns or plans.” He also reminds: “Once again, it would be important for you to remove the means of committing suicide from your environment so that you are not tempted to use them impulsively.”
Whether you suffer from depression or just need to talk with someone about your situation, Teladoc can help.2 When you reach out to Teladoc, you’ll find empathy, compassion, kindness, and understanding with our licensed therapists and counselors. No matter how big or small you think your problem is, it’s always OK to share your thoughts with a professional who can help. Confidential appointments can be made at least 72 hours in advance and are available between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m., seven days a week.
You can set up a visit in the confidence and safety of your home, office, or school dorm any time, and once you begin working with your therapist, you can keep the same one as long as you want. Just take these three steps to get started (visits can be scheduled in as little as three days):
- Register through Teladoc’s website or app and complete your medical history
- Request your visit and select the therapist
- Schedule an appointment and complete your Emotional Health Questionnaire3
You are loved and cared for in ways you just may not recognize right now. We will do our best to help you work through it. Just contact us and your therapist or counselor can take it from there.
1 To protect privacy, names have been changed.
2 Teladoc clinical services are available based on your employer or health plan benefits. Counseling through Teladoc’s Behavioral Health services is based on your eligibility.
3 Appointments are made at least 72 hours in advance and are available between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m., seven days a week. Phone visits are available depending on your benefits.
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If you are in the United States and think you are having a medical or health emergency, call your healthcare professional, or 911, immediately.