If a loved one is having a mental health crisis, you may worry about suicide. How do you know if it’s a real possibility? And how can you create a safe environment for someone who may be at risk for suicide?
Here are some things to keep in mind.
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What Is Suicide?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that suicide is a leading cause of death in the U.S. In 2020, nearly 46,000 people died from suicide, or one death every 11 minutes.
The reasons people attempt suicide are complicated. Risk factors include depression, chronic pain, a history of suicide attempts, and exposure to physical or sexual abuse. Suicide affects people of any age, gender, or race.
But suicide is a tragedy that’s often preventable. Here are some warning signs that someone may be thinking about suicide — and ways to help intervene.
Warning Signs of Suicide
Suicide is not a normal response to stress. Suicidal thoughts or actions are a sign of extreme distress. You should never ignore these warning signs of suicidal thoughts in a loved one.
- Threatening or talking about wanting to hurt or kill themselves.
- Looking for ways to kill themselves by buying a gun, stockpiling pills, or searching out lethal methods online.
- Talking about, writing about, or searching online for information on death, dying, or suicide.
- Talking about being a burden to others.
- Expressing feelings of hopelessness/helplessness.
- Feeling unbearable mental or physical pain.
- Rage, uncontrolled anger, or wanting to seek revenge.
- Engaging in risky activities, like driving extremely fast.
- Feelings trapped in a situation, with no way out.
- Using drugs and alcohol in excess.
- Withdrawing from friends and family/supports.
- Feeling agitated or anxious.
- Talking about feeling great guilt or shame.
- Sleeping too much or barely at all.
- Dramatic mood changes.
- Having no sense of purpose in life or seeing no reason for living.
- Giving away material possessions.
- Putting affairs in order and making a will.
- Saying goodbye to family and friends.
- Saying things like: “I just can’t take it anymore,” “All my problems will end soon,” and “No one can help me now.”
How to Safeguard Your Home From Suicide
It’s important to get professional help if you think a loved one is considering suicide. There are also steps you can take at home to help keep them safe.
Remove firearms from the home
More than 50% who die by suicide use a firearm to do so. If there are any firearms in the house, it’s best to remove them. Ask a trusted friend or family member if they can store the guns until the situation improves at home.
If you can’t remove firearms for any reason, you need to keep them:
- Separate from ammunition.
- Secured with a trigger or cable lock.
- Locked securely in a gun safe or lock box. A lock with a combination is safer than one with a key.
Keep medications in a safe place
Prescription medications and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs can pose a danger to someone experiencing a mental health crisis. You should:
- Keep any prescription medicines — prescription and OTC — locked up. Limit who has access to the key or passcode.
- Dispose of unused medications to reduce the amount of drugs you have on hand.
- Keep track of all bottles of medication, as well as how many pills are in each one.
Consider removing or locking up other potentially lethal items, such as:
- Illegal drugs.
- Household cleaners or other potentially poisonous substances.
- Knives, razors, or other weapons.
- Ropes, belts, or plastic bags.
Open the lines of communication
It may not be easy to ask a loved one if they are thinking about suicide, but it’s important. Acknowledging and talking about suicidal thoughts may reduce the likelihood that someone will carry through with them. You should:
- Know the warning signs of suicide.
- Be on the lookout for changes in mood and behavior.
- Ask them directly: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” (It won’t make them more likely to act on it.)
- Call 988 (see below) for support in a crisis situation. Talk about the crisis number with your loved one and make sure they know how to access it.
Know the new hotline number
You should call 988 if you or a loved one are in distress and thinking about suicide. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (previously the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) is a national network of more than 200 crisis centers.
The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline offers trained crisis counselors 24/7. They can help people experiencing mental health-related distress, including thoughts of suicide or any other kind of emotional distress.
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Suicide Safety: Precautions at Home, Link
CDC, Facts About Suicide, Link
CDC, Suicide Prevention, Link
American Academy of Pediatrics, 12 Things Parents Can Do to Help Prevent Suicide, Link
National Institute of Mental Health, Suicide Prevention, Link
U.S. Department of Health & Health Services, 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, Link
UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is the hub of UPMC Behavioral Health, a network of community-based programs providing specialized mental health and addiction care for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors. Our mission is to provide comprehensive, compassionate care to people of all ages with mental health conditions. UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is a nationally recognized leader in mental health clinical care, research, and education. It is one of the nation’s foremost university-based psychiatric care facilities through its integration with the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. We are here to help at every stage of your care and recovery.