Over the past couple of days I have been talking to you about Suicide. We talked about what it means to be a Gatekeeper, how to be an attentive listener, and then we went over some of the risk factors that can possibly contribute to someone contemplating or even committing suicide. Today I want to take the discussion a little bit further and talk to you about some of the warning signs that you should be aware of and looking and listening for when talking with a person that is depressed and could possibly be at risk for suicide. Remember it is always better to be safe than sorry, and it is good to ask as many questions as you can to get to the heart of the matter and really understand what the person is going through and experiencing. Keep in mind that just by listening and demonstrating that you are someone that cares you may just be saving someone's life.
Do you remember the other day when I told you that the two biggest factors or risks are the feelings of hopelessness and depression? What you might not realize is that these two things go hand in hand. They act upon a persons mind in such away that they cannot think or see clearly and they begin to feel trapped. Every problem, emotion and crisis because larger and even harder to manage much less handle. Depression alone can make a person feel like they aren't capable of dealing with the issue, it robs them of clarity of mind and purpose and certainly can make a small problem or issue seem like an insurmountable mountain. Now, throw in the sense of hopelessness and you will find a person that is paralyzed, looking for a way out but cannot seem to see a light in the darkness anywhere. Hopelessness + Depression = Suicidal Risk.
In this article I am making the assumption that the person you are talking too is someone that you know or might have known, which is why they have decided to speak with you regarding what they are feeling and going through, though this might not always be the case. So when I am discussing potential warning signs, I am going to be trying to speak in general terms. Behaviors that you may have personally observed or might have been told about during your conversation. Keep in mind that if this isn't someone that you know or see on a regular basis you might have to ask some invasive questions to get the answers you are looking for. However, if this is someone that you know well, or have a good deal of contact with you may have picked up some of these warning signs through casual observation, but you still need to explore them and ask questions to make sure that you haven't made an assumption or jumped to the wrong conclusion about something. So here we go, here are some suicidal warning signs that you should be aware of and looking for either by direct observation or through your casual conversation.
Has there been an uncharacteristic decline in job performance or school attendance? Do they seem isolated and withdrawn from you or other people? Have you noticed or has there been any change in behavior or personality? Keep in mind this can be positive or negative behavior, you cannot tell by looking at a person alone and tell if they are feeling suicidal. Is there emotional or mental state of highs and lows? Moodiness? Has there been any change to their sleeping or eating habits? People who are depressed and or feeling hopeless may not be able to shut down their mind at night, it keeps racing over all of their problems and situations and they can't shut down to sleep. Has there been an increase in agitation? Always angry or lashing out at others? Have the begun to exhibit behaviors of acting out? As I prefaced this part earlier these maybe signs that you being around the person you have noticed. If you are not always around this person or have much interaction with them you may have to get them to open up to you, you have to ask them questions like the ones listed above to draw them out. Here are some other things to look for. Do they demonstrate or have indicated in some way that they are having trouble concentrating? Do they feel a low self-worth or are they demonstrating this in some way? Have you notice them displaying symptoms of being a failure? Or have they indicated to you that they feel like they are a failure in some way? Has everything thing they have done worked out the way that they had planned? If it hasn't this can lead them to thinking that they are a failure. Have you ever tried to accomplish something, taken a step forward, but felt like for the step forward you have gone 5 steps backward at the same time? This also can lead to feelings of failure! Do they say or feel a sense of helplessness? Demonstrate or express feelings of guilt? Cry a lot? Or get emotional at the drop of a hat? Ever talked about or attempted suicide before?
Is there a demonstrated or perceived preoccupation with death? Death-taking or writing about suicide? Any signs of self-harm or cutting? Self mutilation? Any open talk of suicide or death? A demonstrated or perceived notion that they might be getting their affairs in order? Giving away cherished items unexpectedly? I know it might be hard for you to identify these things if they are not close personal friends of yours. You may not see them on a regular basis, therefore you are going to have to pry and dig to get to the answers to these questions but as I have said in the previous entries that I have written on suicide you have to have a complete picture. You cannot just assume that someone is contemplating suicide, you need to be blunt and ask them. Remember you are not going to push them into committing suicide by asking them about it. You may even draw them into discussion about it and eliminate some of their worry and anxiety about their situation and it may even save their lives.
Here are some factors that you should be on the look out for, these are imminent warning signs. By imminent I mean they could act at any moment and these are signs that might indicate an immediate action. If there has been a significant increase of alcohol and drug use. A trend of isolating themselves from friends and family. They appear to be engaging in behaviors that are risk taking, they lack concern for their safety and they demonstrate no fear when committing them. An increase of persistent physical complaints, dramatic mood changes and profound lack of concentration, or sudden mood improvement. During conversations they display expressions of sadness or laughter that are in context of the conversation. They are acting like they don't have a clue as too what everyone has been talking about. Keep in mind that if you notice these things that they could be an unconscious cry for help and you should try and pull them aside and talk to them, try to get them to open up about what they are going through, push to find out what they are doing to themselves. If you have to use pointed and open ended questions to draw them out into conversation. Getting them to talk will if nothing else fill in some of the pieces of the puzzle for you. However, it might just get them to express themselves enough to cut down their anxiety, dispel their fear that they are alone and might turn the whole situation around. You would be surprised sometimes how your biggest problems or worries don't seem so big once you begin talking about them and get them out into the open.
The main thing that you have to remember that the right combinations of stress, trouble, sense of being all alone and trapped, make it easy for depression to come into the picture, through in a sense of hopelessness and you have a situation that is ripe for suicide. As always I encourage you to look at those around you, notice any odd behaviors, whether they are fitting in with others well, are they integrating well with the people and places around them. Be a conscientious listener, compassionate, demonstrating a genuine concern and regard for them. Show them that you are there for them and willing to help them. As I said before, you maybe the only thing standing in this person's way and suicide.
As always my hopes and dreams are with you,