Suicide: Intervening Before It’s Too Late
April sees a dramatic spike in mental health issues and suicide rates. How can you step in to prevent suicide and offer care for those who need help along the way?
The Reality of Suicide
There is hardly anything more terrifying than when a friend or family member is considering suicide and nothing as heart-wrenching as when they actually attempt it. What can be done to help? What could have been done differently? How do we make sure this doesn’t happen again?
Sadly, suicide has remained an ever-present reality in our world. According to the American Association of Suicidology, suicide rates slightly increased between 2011-2016. Aside from an increase in suicide rates, Psychology Today states there is an apparent spike in April, lasting into early summer.
This phenomenon knows no prejudice: gender, age, race, class, or religion. Anyone can be touched by this tragedy. Gone are the days of thinking depression and suicide don’t affect people in the Church. Experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts are not indicators of weak faith or a lack of maturity. They are indicators of mental health issues.
The first step in any pursuit to prevent suicide is to learn to detect the warning signs. Although conversations about this topic may be difficult, being prepared doesn’t have to be.
Symptoms of Depression and Indicators of Suicide Risk
In any relationship, paying attention is important. Noticing details is a part of engaging with another person. You may notice abrupt changes in someone’s life such as withdrawing from family and friends, changes in patterns and routines, and sudden changes in mood. If you suspect someone is experiencing depression or is at risk for suicide, this attention to detail becomes very important.
Depression is a common precursor to suicide, so recognizing these symptoms can be very helpful. Feelings of hopelessness, frequent crying, self-defeating comments, chronic fatigue or lethargy, decreased attention to personal hygiene, or even a change in sleeping or eating patterns can be signs of depression.
Though suicide is sometimes impulsive, sometimes it isn’t, and the person begins to prepare for it. Behaviors such as making financial arrangements for family or making plans to give away essential items or more money than usual may indicate preparation of a suicide. Most importantly, if the person has begun to develop an actual plan (e.g., buying a weapon, storing pills, or thinking through specific scenarios), he or she might be at high risk for suicide.
Caring for Those at Risk
If someone has confided in you they are considering suicide or you have detected one or more of the indicators, it is time to ACT immediately and lovingly. We’ll use ACT as a helpful acronym to remember what steps to take in this situation:
Acknowledge the Problem
Never doubt your friend is actually considering suicide. Listening without judgement or criticism when they share about their thoughts and feelings will increase your credibility when you suggest professional help.
Care for Your Friend
Now is your time to jump in and not be timid to engage in conversation. Voice your concern for their well-being and ask what is troubling them. Leading with gentleness and love will go a long way in overcoming your friend’s reluctance to open up about these painful thoughts.
As they share, assure your friend that they will be supported in this crisis. Assure them that while this feeling is very real, it’s also temporary and the usual cause of them, depression, can be treated.
As appropriate, find out if your friend has a specific plan and how detailed it is. Have they taken any steps toward implementing it? Have a time and place been set? As your friend shares these details, determine the seriousness of the threat.
Treatment: Always Get Help Immediately
If your friend is at high-risk but willing to accept help, take them to an emergency room or mental health center. If at lower-risk, contacting their primary care physician or mental health care provider would be appropriate. Whichever step is taken, be sure they don’t take it alone. Accompany them to the service provider or relevant appointment. If they’re at immediate risk, call 911.
Lastly, for a person who is considering suicide, perceiving God as loving or benevolent may be difficult. You may need to model God’s love for your friend until they are able to connect with God again. Furthermore, if the person is unable to connect lovingly with God, personal or group prayer will be an important and supportive way of manifesting God’s love to your friend.
If You’ve Already Lost Someone to Suicide
In the event someone close to you takes their own life, you may find yourself consumed by questions. You may question everything you said, you may doubt everything you did, you may feel that you should have done more. Don’t blame yourself for the person’s death. Don’t let guilt stop you from supporting the people in your LifeGroup or family. However, seek professional counseling if you feel it would help in the grieving process.
Additionally, you and your sphere of influence (i.e., LifeGroup, friends, and family) may be experiencing anger toward God, questioning why this person made that choice, and even turn away from God for a period of time. All of these feelings and more are a normal part of your grief.
By understanding the basic symptoms of depression and indicators of suicide risk, you’re more equipped to express care and to share the burden these feelings can bring. Whatever the situation or circumstances might be, depressed or at-risk people should not be left to tackle this alone. Don’t assume that the problem will go away by itself or that another person will swoop in to help. Even if you feel inadequate or unsure of what to do, your presence will be invaluable.
Though much of this material was adapted from Group’s Emergency Response Handbook, it is not an exhaustive or comprehensive description of suicide or suicidal ideation. For more information, check out the following resources:
Group’s Emergency Response Handbook (Practical tips for prevention and care)
No Time to Say Goodbye by Carla Fine (Support for survivors of suicide)
When Nothing Matters Anymore: A Survival Guide for Depressed Teens by Bev Cobain (Understanding teen depression)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255