You never know what’s going on in someone else’s life or mind. Your friend, coworker, or family member who appears to be in good health may be having suicidal thoughts. Suicide is a leading cause of death in the US, with over 47,000 lives lost each year.
The good news is that there are often warning signs that can help identify someone at risk and get them the assistance they need. With the support of professionals, appropriate medication, and therapy, individuals grappling with suicidal thoughts can conquer their struggles and move forward to lead lives filled with happiness and fulfillment.
What is Suicide?
Suicide refers to the deliberate act of ending one’s own life. For some individuals, it serves as a means of escaping pain or suffering. A suicide attempt, on the other hand, occurs when someone harms themselves with the intent to end their life, but they don’t die as a result of their actions. Various factors can increase or decrease the risk of suicide.
Any age can be affected by suicide and have suicidal thoughts, but these can be prevented. According to statistics, suicide is the ninth leading cause of death for individuals aged 10 to 64 in 2021 and the second most common cause of death for those aged 10 to 14, as well as 20 to 34.
Individuals who are at risk of suicide can go through suicide prevention counseling, a specialized form of counseling that involves providing support, intervention, and guidance. The primary goal is to help individuals find hope, develop coping strategies, and access appropriate resources to overcome their distress and prevent suicide.
What are the Warning Signs of Suicide?
Recognizing the warning signs of suicide is crucial for early intervention and prevention. It’s important to note that individuals may display varying signs, and the presence of these signs does not necessarily mean that someone is suicidal. However, if you observe these signs in someone, it’s important to take them seriously and seek professional help.
Here are some key signs to watch out for:
- Talking about death, dying, or suicide. Things like “I wish I were dead” and “I won’t be a problem for you much longer” are very alarming. Don’t ignore it.
- Displaying extreme mood changes. Rapidly shifting between extreme depression, agitation, and calmness can indicate suicidal thoughts.
- Giving away prized possessions. This could mean the person has decided to end their life and is tying up loose ends.
- Withdrawing from social contact. When individuals begin to distance themselves from their loved ones and friends, preferring solitude and isolation, it could potentially indicate that they are contemplating suicide.
- Increased alcohol or drug use. This could be a way of coping with difficult emotions or building the courage to attempt suicide.
- Feeling hopeless or trapped. Expressing that there are no solutions to problems and that life will never improve.
- Exhibiting rage, uncontrolled anger, or seeking revenge. This could indicate the person has reached their breaking point.
What are the Risk Factors for Suicide?
Some people are more at risk for suicide than others. Several factors can make someone vulnerable, including:
- Mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, PTSD, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder can worsen suicidal thoughts if left untreated.
- Substance abuse issues. Alcoholism or drug addiction can exacerbate mental health issues and suicidal ideation.
- Traumatic experiences. Going through physical or sexual abuse, violence, injury, or the loss of a loved one can increase suicide risk, especially without proper support.
- Social isolation or lack of support systems. When individuals experience feelings of isolation, a sense of being distant from loved ones, or a lack of support, suicide may appear as the sole solution in their minds.
- Impulsiveness or aggression. Some people are more prone to reckless behavior and acting without thinking. This may make it more likely for someone to make an impulsive suicide attempt.
- Family history. Having a close family member who has attempted or died by suicide puts a person at higher risk. Suicidal behavior can run in families.
- Chronic medical illness. Some people may think about suicide if they are in constant physical discomfort or have been given a terminal diagnosis.
- LGBTQ youth. Due to factors such as bullying, discrimination, family rejection, and inadequate support systems, sexual minority youth face an elevated risk of experiencing suicidal thoughts and engaging in self-harming behaviors.
- Older adults, especially males, have a high suicide rate in part because of health issues, isolation, and a loss of independence or purpose.
Speak with them if you notice any of these risk indicators in someone you know. Tell them you’re here to support them and that you care. If you believe they are in urgent danger, seek professional, expert counseling or dial 911.
What are the Treatments and Therapies for Suicide?
For those at risk of suicide, counseling, and therapy can be lifesaving. Speaking to a mental health professional allows you to openly discuss your feelings and thoughts about self-harm. It helps you learn coping skills and strategies and rediscover the purpose of life. Suicide prevention counseling aims to uncover the underlying causes of suicidal ideation and give you strategies to build resilience. A counselor will evaluate your mental health, life events, relationships, and other factors contributing to your suicidal thoughts. They will work with you to:
- Challenge negative and irrational thoughts.
- Improve coping and problem-solving skills.
- Establish a network of supportive individuals whom you can rely on and seek assistance from.
- Find purpose and meaning through work, hobbies, social interaction, and self-care.
- Address related mental health conditions like depression or PTSD.
Suicide prevention counseling is adapted to each client’s needs, so no duration is defined. Short-term counseling may last 6–12 weeks, while long-term treatment can continue for months or years. Ongoing “maintenance” counseling may also be recommended to prevent relapse.
For those in immediate danger, hospitalization may be necessary. The goal of hospitalization for suicide treatment is to stabilize individuals during times of crisis. It helps them set out on a path toward recovery and long-term support. It offers 24-hour assistance in a safe environment and aims to provide intensive care, support, and resources to address individuals at acute risk for their mental health concerns.
Alternatives to hospitalization, such as intensive outpatient programs or partial hospitalization programs, may also be considered based on the individual’s needs and level of risk. The decision is made on a case-by-case basis, considering the individual’s clinical presentation and risk factors.
Connecting with others through support groups can help reduce feelings of isolation and hopelessness. It allows individuals to share stories, advice, and coping strategies with people who have had similar experiences. Hearing from those further along in recovery can inspire hope.
Support groups can take various forms, including in-person meetings, online forums, or a combination of both. They may be facilitated by mental health professionals or led by peers who have received training in group facilitation. Local mental health organizations, community centers, and online platforms are resources to find support groups specific to suicide loss or suicide attempt survivors.
Remember that while support groups can be beneficial, they are not a substitute for professional mental health treatment. If individuals in support groups require additional support or therapeutic intervention, they should be encouraged to seek the guidance of mental health professionals who can provide personalized care.
Medication and Collaborative Approach
Both medication and a collaborative approach can play important roles in addressing suicide ideation. Antidepressant medications can help improve mood and manage underlying mental health conditions that contribute to suicidal thoughts. However, medication alone is not enough. Combining medicine with a collaborative approach ensures a more holistic and comprehensive approach to addressing suicide ideation.
A collaborative approach is where various professionals, such as doctors, therapists, and other mental health specialists, come together to share their expertise, knowledge, and perspectives to develop a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to the individual’s specific needs. They work as a team, communicating and coordinating their efforts to ensure that all aspects of the person’s mental health are addressed.
In a collaborative approach, psychotherapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), or psychodynamic therapy are provided. These allow individuals to explore and modify negative thought patterns, develop coping skills, enhance problem-solving abilities, and promote emotional regulation. In some instances, a collaborative approach also involves the individual’s support network, such as family or friends, to provide a network of care and support.
A collaborative approach recognizes that no single entity has all the answers or solutions, and by working together, they can provide an integrated approach to care. It promotes effective communication, mutual respect, and shared decision-making among the professionals involved, with the ultimate goal of improving the individual’s mental well-being and treatment outcomes.
Westwind Recovery® Can Assist With Suicide Prevention Counseling
Westwind Recovery® in Los Angeles is a well-regarded addiction treatment center that provides a variety of services to individuals facing challenges related to substance abuse and mental health concerns, including support for suicide prevention counseling. Our comprehensive approach to recovery can play a role in supporting individuals at risk of suicide. There may be ups and downs, but with the proper tools and coping strategies in place, this problem can be managed.
If you’re in danger of taking your own life or are worried about a loved one who is experiencing mental health-related distress, we can help! Contact us right now.
Dr. Deena is the Chief Clinical Officer of Westwind Recovery®, an award-winning outpatient treatment center in Los Angeles where she oversees the clinical and administrative program and treatment methods. Dr. Deena is a doctor of psychology and licensed clinical social worker since 1993. LCSW #20628. Originally from the East Coast, Dr. Deena has worked running treatment centers, worked as a therapist in psychiatric hospitals as well as school settings and currently has a thriving private practice in the LA area. Dr. Deena has appeared regularly on the Dr. Phil Show as an expert since 2003. She has also been featured on many other TV shows, podcasts and has contributed to written publications as well as podcasts.