Suicide is not a mental illness in itself, but a serious potential consequence of treatable mental disorders that include major depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, substance-use disorders, and anxiety disorders like bulimia and anorexia nervosa. People who take their lives do not want to die, but rather want to end their pain. Suicide is preventable. Don’t dismiss their talk of suicide as just threats.
One way to help is to recognize the clues that someone may be planning to kill themselves:
- The person becomes isolated and withdrawn. They will avoid close friends and family and lose interest in activities and social events.
- Sometimes the person will focus on death or talk openly about wanting to die. They may research ways to kill themselves or buy a gun, knife, or pills.
- The person will show signs of despair that will manifest as talking openly about unbearable pain or feeling like they’re a burden on others.
- The person may begin to make plans and take steps to prepare for their death, like updating a will, giving away stuff, and saying goodbye to others. They may even write a suicide note.
- The person may show extreme fluctuations in their mood. They can become very irritable, moody, or aggressive, then suddenly turn calm once they’ve decide to go through with the suicide. Then they may sleep a lot more or a lot less than usual.
- The person may begin to abuse substances to raise the chance of suicide. Using a lot of drugs and alcohol may be an attempt to dull the pain or to harm themselves.
- The person may begin act recklessly and take dangerous chances, like driving drunk or having risky sex.
Prevalence and Age of Onset
Among teenagers and adults under 35, suicide ranks as the top cause of death behind accidents among 15-24 year olds. On average, there are 122 Americans who die from suicide every day. Suicide rates have increased for middle-aged and older adults and more than 9.4 million adults in the United States had serious thoughts of suicide within the past 12 months.
The risk of suicide is higher in the following groups:
- Older people who have lost a spouse through death or divorce
- People who have attempted suicide in the past
- People with a family history of suicide
- People with a friend or co-worker who committed suicide
- People with a history of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
- People who are unmarried, unskilled, or unemployed
- People with long-term pain or a disabling or terminal illness
- People who are prone to violent or impulsive behavior
- People who have recently been released from a psychiatric hospitalization
(This often is a very frightening period of transition.)
- People in certain professions, such as police officers and health care providers who work with terminally-ill patients
- People with substance-abuse problems
Treatments & Support
If you know someone who is threatening to kill themselves, do not leave them alone. Call 911 or take them to the nearest emergency room.
Don’t be afraid to ask whether your loved one is thinking of suicide, is depressed, or has problems. Take all suicide warning signs seriously. Your support may help save a life. A frank conversation won’t make the person act on their feelings. In fact, talk can help ease suicidal thoughts. Encourage the person to talk to a mental health professional as soon as possible. You can reach a trained counselor at The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255). They are always open.
In some cases, the person just needs to know that someone cares and is looking for the chance to talk about his or her feelings. Rather than trying to talk the person out of suicide, let him or her know that depression is temporary and treatable. You can then encourage the person to seek professional help.
A Spiritual Perspective
The Bible does not state the act of suicide, no matter how tragic, as being an unforgiveable sin. However, God constantly reminds us in His word that He will never waste the pain we struggle through in this life. He will turn it around for good somehow and use it to strengthen us and to help others. Choose to focus on the following:
- Choose not to be driven by fear. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you find yourself struggling. God won’t ever let you go. He has given you others to help shoulder your burdens. Know that you’re never alone. Many have walked this road before and openly offer their support.
- Know that God loves you and is always with you. He will sustain us through our greatest burdens.
- Know that He does not condemn you or accuse you. He offers freedom and peace.
- Be assured that He is greater than anything we face in this life. He offers His help and strength. Remember that He has a plan for good in store, and that whatever we face now, no matter how dark it may seem, will not remain the same. There’s hope still ahead.
- There is power in God’s Word, and in praying it back to Him. He reminds us that it won’t return empty, without accomplishing great things. Even in the deepest struggles, He is able to bring us through to other side, by His healing and strength.