Help prevent suicide by knowing who is at risk
Last updated 9/28/2023 at 12:07pm | View PDF
At this very moment, someone in your community is thinking about ending their life. In Illinois, suicide is the 11th leading cause of death, and the third leading cause of death for young adults aged 15 to 34. Thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts are even more common.
Nobody is immune to suicide — it affects all ages, genders, races and ethnicities. And in many cases, it be prevented. Who is most at risk? Knowing this can save a life.
While there is no single cause for suicide, a combination of factors may increase the chance of an attempt. Sometimes suicidal thoughts come and go, with periods of increased risk.
Some risk factors for suicide include:
• prior suicide attempt/s
• history of substance use
• history of mental health disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety)
• family history of suicide, mental illness and/or substance use disorder
• chronic illness and/or chronic pain
• history of trauma, violence, abuse, bullying
• criminal/legal problems
• loss of job, money, home, relationship/breakup
• social isolation, lack of social support
• death or terminal illness of a loved one
• impulsive and/or aggressive tendencies
• easy access to lethal means (guns, poisons, prescription medications)
• sense of hopelessness
• stigma associated with seeking mental health help
• barriers to healthcare access
• discrimination in the community
If someone you know has these risk factors, pay attention. Most people who attempt or complete suicide made their intentions known ahead of time by either talking about it or giving other clues. Listen closely and take warning signs of suicide seriously.
Also, communicate openly about it. A common misconception is that asking someone about suicide will put the idea in a person’s mind. This is not true. The reality is that talking about it with someone could potentially prevent it.
Even the most severely depressed person has mixed feelings about dying. They often just want to end the pain they are in, not their lives. Talking about suicide often brings a sense of relief to the person in crisis. It’s a chance to connect with them and show that you care and are willing to help.
The National Institute of Mental Health provides five action steps for helping someone.
“Are you thinking about killing yourself?” It’s not an easy question but studies show that asking at-risk individuals if they are suicidal does not increase suicides or suicidal thoughts.
2. Keep them safe
Reducing a suicidal person’s access to highly lethal items or places is an important part of suicide prevention. While this is not always easy, asking if the at-risk person has a plan and removing or disabling the lethal means can make a difference.
3. Be there
Listen carefully and learn what the individual is thinking and feeling. Research suggests acknowledging and talking about suicide may in fact reduce rather than increase suicidal thoughts.
4. Help them connect
Save the numbers below in your phone so they’re there if you need them. You can also help make a connection with a trusted individual like a family member, friend, spiritual advisor or mental health professional.
5. Stay connected
Staying in touch after a crisis or after being discharged from care can make a difference. Studies have shown the number of suicide deaths goes down when someone follows up with the at-risk person.
If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, 24/7 help is available:
• call 911
• call or text 988 or chat at 988lifeline.org (Suicide and Crisis Lifeline)
• call 800-273-TALK (8255) (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline)
• text TALK to 741741 (Crisis Text Line)
• call (630) 305-5027 (Linden Oaks 24/7 Help Line)
— This column was provided by NorthShore — Edward-Elmhurst Health.