Know the signs: Help prevent a loved one’s suicide

A true story by a Beacon Health Options employee

Anna was one of the most talented and creative people I had ever known, and just about everyone who met her felt the same. She was a perfectionist to a fault, and there was seemingly nothing that she did not do well. The one person who did not see this though was Anna herself. As I got to know Anna, she shared more and more about her struggle with depression from the time that she was a small child as well as her persistent feelings of not being good enough and not really fitting in. Eventually she had to be hospitalized and underwent electroconvulsive therapy. It was after this treatment that her symptoms finally began to improve, and this improvement would follow her through her final weeks. She was able to do things, without it seeming like such an effort, that she had not felt like doing in a long time. She went camping with friends, started planning a vacation for the upcoming summer with her family, and began talking about pursuing her doctoral degree. Sadly, these plans would never come to be. The details about her final day are not known to me as I was not with her, but Anna was sadly able, as she was in everything, in ending her life. Many people were truly shocked because they had not been aware that Anna was struggling with anything. . . .

Unfortunately, the story of a Beacon Health Options employee’s friend is not unique or unfamiliar to many people. Often, the friends and families of people at risk for suicidal behavior disorder have no idea of that risk. It’s only when there is death by suicide that people learn of the lifelong pain and anguish their loved ones suffered. Questions surface and can linger for days and years to come, and most us have learned the hard way that there’s nothing more regretful than hindsight.

How did I not know? How could I not have seen it? Why didn’t I do anything?

While most of us are not behavioral health professionals trained to diagnose suicidal behavior disorder, that doesn’t mean we aren’t in a position to be aware of the disorder’s signs. Recognizing September as National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, Beacon wants to shed light on the warning signs and provide tips on what you can do to help.

Suicidal behavior disorder (SBD) is a condition in its own right, rather than just a side effect of depression or any other underlying mental health problem and should be treated like any other behavioral or physical health condition.

Warning signs for SBD*

1. A person thinking about suicide may talk of despair and hopelessness. Depression – the number one cause of suicide – is related to a sense of loss and hopelessness. Listen to the person to see how s/he talks about dealing with detrimental events piling up.

2. A person may appear to be preparing for some kind of end or departure from routine. For example, a friend calls late at night to apologize for a rift that occurred years ago. A co-worker trains a colleague to do his job. Be on the alert if someone you know starts tying up loose ends.

3. Your loved one might talk or joke about different methods to die by suicide. Take all talk of suicide seriously. Pay attention. Is this behavior out of character? Is this person dealing with many difficulties?

How you can respond

1. Talk to your loved one in a warm, nonjudgmental way. Say you care and want to help and tell him or her that there is nothing to be ashamed of. We all have problems.

2. Talk about feelings you have in common. Specifically, talk about the importance of your relationship.

3. Remind the person that s/he is not alone. Many people have reached the same point in their lives, but have managed to find their way back to a meaningful life. You and others are there to help.

4. Life takes courage. Remind the person that s/he has more strength than s/he realizes.

The most important thing you can do is to help your loved one get the care s/he needs. If you or your loved one is in a crisis and need help immediately, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433) any time, any day. Or go to www.suicide.org online. These 24-hour-a-day suicide prevention lifelines are free services, available to anyone. All calls are confidential.

*Cohen, P. H. (2018) Suicide: The Warning Signs. Achieve Solutions, a Beacon Health Options website.


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