Suicide Risk Factors And Warning Signs

Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death of people ages 15-24 and 4th leading cause of children between ages 10-14. The suicide rate among teenagers is on the rise. Many times, teenagers believe suicide is the only way to escape the overwhelming pain they can no longer tolerate in their life. For some it’s to gain attention, manipulate someone or some situation, punish themselves or others for some wrong or sin they’ve committed, maybe become a martyr. Risk factors for suicide are characteristics or conditions that increase the chance that a person may try to take his or her life. Suicide risk factors tend to be the highest when someone has several risk factors at the same time. The most frequently cited risk factors for suicide are:

 Mental disorders, in particular depression, bipolar disorder (manic- depressive)
 Alcohol or substance abuse or dependence
 Schizophrenia – borderline or antisocial personality disorder
 Conduct disorder (in youth) – Incarceration
 Psychotic disorders – psychotic disorders in the context of any disorder
 Anxiety disorders – a stressful life event, series of events or major loss
 Impulsivity and aggression – especially in the context of the above mental disorders
 Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others
 Obsession with suicidal behaviors on internet sites
 Previous suicide attempts – family history of attempted or completed suicide
 Serious medical condition or pain and suffering

It’s important to keep in mind a large majority of people with mental disorders or other suicide risk factors DO NOT engage in suicidal behavior.

Causes of teen suicide:

 Most common is depression
 Feelings of hopelessness – being trap in a life one can’t handle
 Divorce of parents
 Violence in the home
 Inability to be successful in school
 Feelings of worthlessness
 Rejection by friends, family and peers
 Substance and alcohol abuse
 Death of someone close to the teenager
 Suicide of a friend or someone they ‘know’ online

Signs someone may attempt a suicide. Keep a look out for signs your teen may attempt suicide. However, some signs are similar to normal changing teenage behavior. In the trying times of the teenage years, sometimes normal behavior looks a lot like destructive behavior. It doesn’t hurt to look into the following warning signs:

 Talks about death and/or suicide – maybe even in a joking manner
 Plans ways to kill him or herself – has a plan
 Expresses worries nobody cares about them – you’d be better off without them
 Past history of attempted suicide
 Withdraws from friends and family – become secluded
 Shows signs of depression
 Changes in school attendance and/or performance
 Shows signs of substance abuse problems
 Begins to act recklessly – engages in risk taking behaviors
 Begins to give away prized, cherished, sentimental possessions
 Spends time online or listening to music that glamorizes suicide or maybe makes suicidal pacts
 Buying a weapon or sharp device

Indirect verbal clues:

 I can’t go on any longer – I’m tired of life – I can’t take it anymore – Life has no meaning
for me anymore
 We all have to say good-bye sometime – You won’t be seeing me anymore
 You’d be better off without me – I’m going to cash in my chips
 I can’t take the pain any more – I can’t take it any more – You’re going to regret how you treated me

Ask questions: “Asking the question” is sometimes the most difficult part of the intervention process. Direct and non leading questions are most effective:

 Have you been thinking about hurting or killing yourself? – When was the last time you thought about
suicide?
 How would you kill yourself? Do you have a plan? Do you have the means to kill yourself?
 Have you ever tried to kill yourself before?
 Has anyone in your family ever contemplated suicide or committed suicide?
 What are the odds you’ll kill yourself? What has been keeping you alive so far?

The do’s of intervention:

 Remain calm at all times – Accept their feelings as normal to them
 Rephrase their thoughts – Stay focused on the central issue
 Stay close to them – spend time with them – Get involved – Be available – Show interest, positive support
 Be direct – talk freely and openly about suicide
 Listen intently – be honest and empathic – look them in the eye – don’t interrupt – respect silences
 Offer hope alternatives are available
 Take action! Remove the means! Get help from individuals, counselors, pastors, mental health
agencies etc. who are trained to deal with suicide. Call the police if necessary.

The don’ts of intervention:

 Don’t overlook the warning signs
 Don’t sound shocked – It creates distance – Don’t offer empty promises
 Don’t dare them to do it – Don’t ask ‘why’ it encourages defensiveness
 Don’t try to cheer him/her up – Don’t debate morality
 Don’t assume things will improve – Don’t leave the person alone
 Don’t keep it a secret or be sworn to secrecy – Don’t remain the ONLY person helping them

Postvention – helping suicide survivors – helpful phrases:

 I’m sorry for your loss – How can I help? – Is there anyone I can call for you? How are you doing?
 Since the suicide, what are the biggest challenges for you?
When your friend/loved one died, what else died?
 Since the suicide, what are the biggest challenges for you?
What are the good memories you have of them?
 What one small thing can you do differently that might help you?
I’m here if you want to talk any time.

Phrases to avoid:

 You’ll get over it (You never really get over it, but find ways to cope)
 You know they went to hell – You’re young enough to have another child
 You have to snap out of it – Didn’t you see this coming? – What did you do to make them do this?
 Crying won’t bring them back (Crying is good and a part of natural grieving process)
 Try to think positive – I know how you feel

Suicide is preventable. Most suicidal individuals desperately want to live, they’re just unable to see alternatives to their problems. Most suicide individuals give definite warning signs of their suicidal intentions. Talking about suicide doesn’t cause someone to want to commit suicide. Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8225

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