Straight Talk Advice

Sep 24, 2013

Knowing warning signs of suicide can save a life

Dear Readers: The news is filled with murder-rate statistics and efforts to fight violent crime, yet most people don't realize there are more than double the suicide deaths in this country compared to homicides. Suicide is called the "silent" epidemic for this reason.

According to 2007 statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health, over 34,000 suicide deaths occur per year. That's an average of 95 Americans taking their life each day. Suicide is the third-leading killer of our teens and the second-leading killer in our colleges. For every suicide death there are 11 attempts.

Those who attempt suicide are experiencing such utter hopelessness that they believe there is no other solution to end their pain. Some suicides are planned, others are impulsive. The Jason Foundation indicates that approximately 40 percent of youth suicides have a precipitating event, such as death of a loved one, loss of a valued relationship, parental divorce, or sexual abuse.

In virtually every failed suicide, the victim (who is now getting help), is utterly grateful to be alive. With early intervention, most at-risk youth are stabilized in less than 10 therapy sessions.

As we saw in last week's column, we can't always spot or prevent suicide. That said, four out of five suicides are signaled ahead. Learning the risk factors, warning signs, and getting the person immediate professional help, can and does save lives. —Lauren

• deepening depression
• social withdrawal
• statements about feeling worthless or hopeless
• changes in sleeping, eating
• excessive partying or drug use
• intolerance for emotional depth
• out-of-character or risky behavior
• talking, writing, drawing about death or suicide
• dropping loved activities
• unexpectedly contacting friends or relatives
• giving away possessions
• saying goodbye
• having a suicide plan

• major depression
• bipolar or other mental disorders 
• eating disorders
• alcohol or drug dependence
• trauma or loss (breakup, divorce, death,
• personal failure, no-win challenge)
• sexual-orientation issues
• perfectionist personalities
• history of cutting themselves
• issues of neglect, abuse, bullying
• chronic pain
• access to firearms
• family history or close exposure to suicide
• previous suicide attempts

• A deadly misperception is that talking about suicide will "plant the seed." It won’t. Be gentle, yet direct: “I’m worried. I’m seeing A, B and C (name the warning signs and risk factors). "Are you considering suicide?"
• If their answer contradicts body language, keep probing. No matter what they answer, if they have warning signs, tell a responsible adult!
• If they admit to suicidal feelings, take them seriously. Denying their feelings makes things worse. Be caring and listen, but don't "play" therapist.
• Ask about a suicide plan: “Have you thought about how you would do it?” If they reveal a plan, DO NOT keep their secret! Tell an adult ASAP.
• If they backtrack with, “But I’m fine, I would never do that," or text you, "I'm better now," DO NOT BELIEVE IT. Tell an adult!
• If someone is actually attempting suicide, stay with them! You are their lifeline. Immediately call 911 or 1-800-SUICIDE.

• Give kids demonstrable love and affection every day.
• Set a strong family expectation that suicide is not acceptable behavior.
• Ensure that no problem is too big to solve and that you are there for them always.

Editor's Note: Today's column is dedicated to Kyle Gamboa, who took his life Friday, Sept. 20. To Kyle, and all those who have taken your own life, my heart aches for the pain you were in. May you rest in peace.

To the families and friends of suicides: Suicide is a personal choice and no one's fault. I urge you to seek out a grief professional to help you mourn your loss and forgive yourself so you can heal and regenerate. While you may never be quite the same, a way to honor your loved one and bring light into your world (and the world) is by working on improving your own emotional health. —Lauren

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  1. By Lauren Forcella, age , from Sebastopol, CA, USA on 09/29/2013

    Dear Readers—I want to point out that there is a new TEXTING suicide hotline number. Many hotline systems are scurrying to put texting in place for the many young people who prefer this method of reaching out.

    The only TEXTING number I could find that is 24/7 (at this point) is from the Reno, Nevada Crisis Center.

    For TEXTING CRISIS SUPPORT, key in 839-863 and then text the word ANSWER. Someone will get right back to you. I tested it myself.

    Again text ANSWER to 839-863.

    You are never alone. The people texting back really care about you.

    Love, Lauren

    Reply to this comment

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