Suicide and Suicide Prevention: Know the Warning Signs

Friends holding hands

By: Kindra Perry, PsyD, LP, PMH-C

According to the CDC, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among all ages. Unfortunately, we’ve seen the overall suicide rate in the U.S. increase by over 35% since 1999.

Risk Factors

Suicide rates vary by race/ethnicity, age, and other factors, however overall the Suicide Prevention Resource Center reports that in the U.S.:

  • 78% of all people who die by suicide are male.
  • Individuals aged 45-64 are at the greatest risk of suicide.
  • The highest rates of suicide are among American Indian/Alaska Native and non-Hispanic white individuals.
  • Other Americans with higher than average rates of suicide include veterans, those living in rural areas, incarcerated individuals, workers in certain industries (i.e. construction), and transgender youth.

Suicide rates among populations differ based on their ability access to culturally appropriate behavioral health treatment, experiences of discrimination and historical trauma, and other factors that may be related to suicide risk such as having:

  • Diagnosed mental health conditions
  • Chronic pain or disabling illness
  • Serious financial, legal or criminal problems
  • Bullying or discrimination
  • Easy access to self-harm methods
  • Use of alcohol or drugs
  • Isolation/lack of social support
  • Recent loss of relationship through break up, divorce, or death
  • Previous suicide attempt(s)

NAMI reports that 46% of people who die by suicide already had a diagnosed mental health condition, and 90% experienced symptoms of a mental health condition.

Suicidal thoughts, should not be considered normal and likely indicate more serious issues. It can be scary if someone you love talks about having suicidal thoughts. It can be even scarier if you find yourself having them. These thoughts must be taken seriously.

Warning Signs

Some warning signs, or behaviors that indicate someone may be at risk for suicide include:

  • Threatening to hurt or kill oneself, talking about being a burden, trapped or feeling hopeless
  • Increasing alcohol or drug use - More than 1 in 3 people who die from suicide are under the influence of alcohol at the time of death.
  • Feeling agitated, showing rage, talking about revenge or acting recklessly
  • Giving away possessions or withdrawing
  • Dramatic changes in mood or sleep behaviors

What To Do

If you are identifying warning signs in someone you love, it is important to quickly reach out and make a connection. Experts say that simply feeling connected can save a life. Some tips for this often challenging conversation include:

  • Discuss your observations calmly
  • Ask the question without dread: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”
  • Let the person know you are concerned and are willing to help
  • Express empathy for what the person is going through
  • Let the other person to do most of the talking
  • State that thoughts of suicide are often associated with a treatable illness
  • Tell the person that thoughts of suicide are common and do not have to be acted on

If the situation elevates to a suicide-related crisis, it’s important to take immediate action. Unfortunately, mental health crises don’t always come with clear instructions on how to help. Some actions to take in a crisis include:

  • Call the suicide hotline 1-800-273-8255.
  • Help the person think about people or things that have been supportive in the past - the things that are important to them and keep them here and if those supports are still available, reach out.
  • Calmly request professional assistance (911/Mobile Crisis), especially if someone is talking about wanting to die/kill oneself, looking for a way to kill oneself, and expressing having no reason to live.

Things to Avoid During a Suicide-Crisis

  • Leave an actively suicidal person alone
  • Use guilt or threats to try to prevent suicide (i.e. You will go to hell, You will ruin other people’s lives if you die by suicide)
  • Agree to keep their plan a secret
  • Express any negative judgments

We're Here To Help

Suicidal thoughts can be treated, and they can improve over time. Immediately connecting an individual in need with a mental health professional is critical. There is no wrong door at Broadlawns – we’re here to help!

Our crisis team is available 24/7 to provide comprehensive emergency mental health services. The crisis team can be accessed by simply visiting Broadlawns’ Emergency Department or Broadlawns mobile crisis can be dispatched 24/7 in Polk County by calling 911 and telling law enforcement dispatch that there is a mental health crisis.

Individual therapy is available in-person and via virtual care is available for patients of all ages at Broadlawns Medical Center, call (515) 282-5695 for an appointment.

Broadlawns Medical Center offers the most comprehensive delivery system for mental health services in Central Iowa. Our professionals are dedicated to excellence, compassion, and personalized care.