Suicide is something that always felt like a faraway problem to me. Something that is tragic and unfathomable—how can someone be that sad?—but that I never expected to affect my life significantly.

But now. One of our children’s birth families has been greatly impacted by suicide. While it wasn’t the only factor, this death set into motion many of the problems that led to the children in the family being taken into state care. This person was very young. This person had a very hard life, like many others in the family. This person was in good health otherwise, but battling a depression that no one was aware of.

Everything that I have learned about this tragic event pointed to the same, baffled conclusion: No one saw it coming. No one had any idea that this person was struggling in this way. No one had any idea.

Knowing this, I can’t help but think about suicide in a different way.

Knowing this, I can’t help but think of this person, once small, a child—not unlike my child—not knowing what life might bring them. But hopeful, hopefully. I can’t help but wonder why that hope couldn’t stay. How their family might look today if they had found the help they needed. Of course I can’t help but think of this person’s mother. Of his brothers, sisters. Father. People who would have tried to help, if only they knew.

It is such a complicated topic, and I feel so unqualified to speak on it. But I do know that there are things we all can do to help those struggling, the most important of which is to pay attention. There are risk factors to watch for, there are warning signs that can clue us in to someone around us having suicidal thoughts. Seeing these things and reaching out can make a world of difference. It can literally save lives.

Risk factors can be health-related or environmental. They include: 

-Mental health conditions, particularly mood disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, certain personality disorders, and schizophrenia

-A family history of mental health conditions

-A family history of suicide

-Abuse of substances, such as drugs or alcohol

-Chronic health conditions or pain disorders

-Stressful life events, particularly job loss, divorce, loss of a loved one, loss of a relationship, etc.

-A lack of access to proper medical care, especially mental health care

-Previous suicide attempts

Warning signs for suicide, which differ from risk factors in their urgency, should not be ignored. If you know someone who displays these behaviors, especially if there has been a recent change in the behavior severity or if it seems related to a recent life event, seek help as soon as possible. These include:

-Talking about feeling hopeless, trapped, or alone

-Talking about being a burden to others

-An increase in drug or alcohol use

-Reckless, agitated, or anxious behavior

-A change in sleep patterns

-Extreme mood swings

-Withdrawing from loved ones or activities

-Giving away possessions unexpectedly

-Engaging in talk about death, wanting to die, or suicide

-Seeking a method to commit suicide, such as buying a weapon or searching online

If you or someone you know is displaying any of these behaviors, there are avenues for help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline—1-800-273-TALK (8255)—is the most readily available of these, and can direct someone in crisis to long-term help.

Sources:

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – www.afsp.org

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org