Suicide Prevention Awareness Part 2: Warning Signs

Several months ago I wrote a post on suicide prevention and the more I delved into the topic the more I recognized how extensive the article was becoming. Instead of creating one giant mega post, I decided to convert it into a series concentrated on one particular aspect at a time to ensure that the message that I wanted to transmit resonated with the audience. For this particular post I will emphasize on recognizing some of the warning signs related to suicide.

Suicide ideations are defined as the thought or the consideration of taking your own life. When ideations are existent, those who are contemplating the act of taking their life may give out signs even when they are trying their best to conceal what they are feeling at the moment. These signs appear in many forms and some are more obvious than others, but in the end it all comes down to paying attention to 3 basic components; thoughts, moods and behaviors.

Thoughts: As a Behavioral Health Specialist for the US Army Reserve and Clinical Social Worker one of my most useful skills is to find clues and key words in the conversation in order to better assess the situation. The conversations that I have with my clients are full of hints that might indicate what frame of mind the person is at the moment. A person that is contemplating suicide often focuses their conversations on being “nonexistent” and of “less importance” than others. For us in the Behavioral Health field these types of thoughts are never taken lightly. If someone you know is suddenly talking about “being better off somewhere else” or feeling as if their life does not matter, ask for clarification on exactly what they meant. A simple example of this is asking them; what do you mean when you say you wish you weren’t here? If the same train of thought of hopelessness persists you can validate their feelings. It is very normal to feel sad, especially around certain times of the year such as the holidays. Give examples on how you would feel if they weren’t around anymore. It is important for them to have a good perspective on how much we care about them.

Moods: With everything being so fast paced nowadays we find it harder to notice small changes in the people around us. Humans are creatures of habits and for the most part tend to have the same moods. If you notice that a person’s mood has suddenly changed in the last several weeks or so, don’t be afraid to ask them if there is anything going on in their life. Sometimes we avoid asking that question because we fear that we don’t have the right responses to give back but as I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, it is not about the response, it is about what they are feeling. Allowing them that space to talk gives them an opportunity to sort out some of those difficult emotions they are trying to process. All they want is for someone to actively listen to them.

Behavior: Like mood, behavior is sometimes difficult to predict if we are caught up in the 3,000 things that we are doing in our lives. Still there are several actions that can serve as indicators on how someone is really feeling. Pay close attention to any sudden changes in the person’s behavior. If there is a sudden avoidance on behalf of the person, simply ask them why they have been acting that way. This gives us a chance to observe them up close and maybe pick up on anything that may raise a red flag. Maintaining proximity will keep us well informed if something is currently going on in their lives that requires immediate aide.

Some of the indicators that I just covered can be right in front of our faces and yet we can’t seem to identify them in time to help our loved ones. Even with the amount of social media platforms that are available the way we live our lives presently prevents us from having the opportunity to be more in tune with what’s going on with everyone else. If we just remember to pay close attention, ask them how they are feeling and don’t forget to tell them how much we really care, maybe we can be the difference in saving some one’s life.

If you need help please contact:

  • The Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 or visit the Confidential Chat at VeteransCrisisLine.net or text 838255
  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
David J. Ortiz (MSW) is an Iraq war veteran educated in Military Behavioral Health. He is dedicated to assisting service members in living well-rounded, productive lives. Currently you can find him serving on Twitter as a #PTSDChat mentor as @balancedsoldier on Wednesdays 9pm (EST) or checkout his Facebook page for past posts @ facebook.com/balancedsoldierlife/

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