People who kill themselves usually do so because they feel it is the only way to escape overwhelming and unbearable feelings. Very often people see suicide as their only alternative. Tragically, the same intense distress that causes people to consider suicide also makes it hard for people to see other solutions even though there are almost always other solutions available.
Everyone experiences the emotional challenges of intense sadness, loneliness, helplessness, and hopelessness at some time in their lives. These can be reactions to losses such as the death of a family member or the breakup of a relationship, or the result of blows to self esteem, such as failing a class or a major financial setback.
In trying to assess whether someone is suicidal, it is important to evaluate the crisis from that person's perspective. What may not appear to be a major blow to one person may be extremely distressful to another. Regardless of the source of the distress, if someone feels overwhelmed there is the possibility that suicide may seem like an attractive alternative.
Most people who commit suicide give some clues regarding their intention before they attempt. These clues can vary from direct statements of intent such as "I am going to kill myself" to hints regarding a plan such as "I have been driving my car like I do not really care." In addition, any statements about desperation, helplessness, hopelessness or extreme loneliness may suggest suicidal thoughts. It is important to heed these cries for help as they are often intended to communicate a need for help and understanding.
Warning Signs of Suicide
- Talking about wanting to die
- Looking for a way to kill oneself
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or feeling isolated
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Displaying extreme mood swings
There are a number of things you can do if you think someone may be suicidal. Most suicides can be prevented by sensitive responses to a person in crisis. It is important to remain calm. In most situations there is no need to rush. Really listen to what a person says. Be sure to convey your understanding and support regarding their emotional experience. Be direct and do not be afraid to talk about the topic of suicide. Bringing up the topic will not make it happen. In fact most people who consider suicide have some ambivalence about death and dying and are open to help.
Encourage problem solving. This may be difficult as the crisis affects a person's judgment, but this makes it all the more important for you to help them with this process. Generate and help the person generate positive alternatives which may give them hope.
Probably most importantly, do not feel that you have to handle this alone. Contact qualified help even if this means breaking confidence. Be sure to let the person know that you are concerned about them and that you feel the need, and are willing to arrange for help beyond what you can offer. If you need further assistance or you yourself are struggling with suicidal thoughts, local resources include the Counseling Center during office hours or an RA or assistant director of residence life can reach a psychologist at other times. In addition, help is available from the First Call for Help Hotline at 410-685-0525 or 1-800-492-0618.
There are a number of myths around suicide. To learn more about what is fact and what is myth, take this quiz offered by Befrienders Worldwide.
You may also view the following video created by The University of Michigan for additional information on suicide and depression amongst college students: http://www.depressioncenter.org/video/TheViewFromHere/.
Facebook, The Jed Foundation, and The Clinton Foundation offer warning signs and guidance on how to help a friend who posts distressing or concerning messages on social media.
The 'A friend asks' website linked below is maintained by the Jason Foundation, which is dedicated to the prevention of suicide through educational and awareness programs. There are Apple and Android apps for suicide prevention tips available here also. Please see the emergency contact information page in the case of a crisis.