How do I know if a loved one is at risk of suicide?

The prevalence of suicide has been increasing for years. I am often asked how one is to know if someone they care about is at risk. While it depends on the individual, there are many common factors that research has identified that we can watch for.

According to the American Psychological Association, the following warning signs are things to watch out for in loved ones:

  • Talks about committing suicide
  • Has trouble eating or sleeping
  • Exhibits drastic changes in behavior
  • Withdraws from friends or social activities
  • Loses interest in school, work, or hobbies
  • Prepares for death by writing a will and making final arrangements
  • Gives away prized possessions
  • Has attempted suicide before
  • Takes unnecessary risks
  • Has recently experienced serious losses
  • Seems preoccupied with death and dying
  • Loses interest in his or her personal appearance
  • Increases alcohol or drug use.

While one sign in isolation may or may not be an indicator, if you see a change in a loved one’s behavior toward one or more of these, be proactive. Ask them how they are doing. Ask the direct question: Have you thought about hurting yourself or of committing suicide?

Many are hesitant to ask difficult questions like this for fear they will make the person think about hurting themselves or attempting suicide. However, research has consistently shown the opposite is true. Asking the difficult questions significantly reduces their chance of self-harm or attempting suicide.

If after asking, the loved one says yes, ensure they receive an evaluation immediately. Reach out for help through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or take them to the nearest emergency room. There are many professionals who are willing and able to help.

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