In the wake of the tragic news about the suicides of celebrities Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade — the topic of mental health is more prevalent than ever. And, whether you want to face it or not, suicide is on the rise.
A new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “suicide rates have increased in nearly every state over the past two decades, and half of the states have seen suicide rates go up more than 30 percent.” Suicides in this country also account “for nearly 45,000 deaths in 2016 alone.”
With countless reports about this epidemic, we constantly read about where to go if we need help. And while that is extremely important, we also must educate ourselves on how we can help someone who may be suicidal.
According to the HelpGuide “people who take their lives don’t want to die—they just want to stop hurting. Suicide prevention starts with recognizing the warning signs and taking them seriously.”
WebMD says these are some of the symptoms that are red flags.
- Excessive sadness or moodiness: Long-lasting sadness, mood swings, and unexpected rage.
- Hopelessness: Feeling a deep sense of hopelessness about the future, with little expectation that circumstances can improve.
- Sleep problems.
- Sudden calmness: Suddenly becoming calm after a period of depression or moodiness can be a sign that the person has made a decision to end his or her life.
- Withdrawal: Choosing to be alone and avoiding friends or social activities also are possible symptoms of depression, a leading cause of suicide. This includes the loss of interest or pleasure in activities the person previously enjoyed.
- Changes in personality and/or appearance: A person who is considering suicide might exhibit a change in attitude or behavior, such as speaking or moving with unusual speed or slowness. In addition, the person might suddenly become less concerned about his or her personal appearance.
- Dangerous or self-harmful behavior: Potentially dangerous behavior, such as reckless driving, engaging in unsafe sex, and increased use of drugs and/or alcohol might indicate that the person no longer values his or her life.
- Recent trauma or life crisis: A major life crises might trigger a suicide attempt. Crises include the death of a loved one or pet, divorce or break-up of a relationship, diagnosis of a major illness, loss of a job, or serious financial problems.
- Making preparations: Often, a person considering suicide will begin to put his or her personal business in order. This might include visiting friends and family members, giving away personal possessions, making a will, and cleaning up his or her room or home. Some people will write a note before committing suicide. Some will buy a firearm or other means like poison.
- Threatening suicide: From 50% to 75% of those considering suicide will give someone—a friend or relative—a warning sign. However, not everyone who is considering suicide will say so, and not everyone who threatens suicide will follow through with it. Every threat of suicide should be taken seriously.
But if you do see these signs in someone, how do you approach them? How can we really talk someone off a ledge—so to speak?
How to approach someone who is suicidal.
If the person is in immediate danger, you must call 911. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention state that you must first have an honest conversation with that person. Here’s some pointers:
- Talk to them in private.
- Listen to their story
- Tell them you care about them
- Ask directly if they are thinking about suicide
- Encourage them to seek treatment or to contact their doctor or therapist
- Avoid debating the value of life, minimizing their problems or giving advice
Warning signs on social media
Sadly, in our age of social media, sometimes the only contact we have is through platforms like Instagram and Facebook. So how do we know if someone is suicidal just by looking at their posts? People are not always direct on social media. They won’t say “I’m depressed” or “suicidal” outright. Sometimes we have to read between the lines, like at the pictures themselves.
According to a study by the EPJ Data Science, there are signs of a depressed person on social media. For example, “People in our sample who were depressed tended to post photos that, on a pixel-by-pixel basis, were bluer, darker and grayer on average than healthy people,” Andrew Reece, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University and co-author of the study with Christopher Danforth, a professor at the University of Vermont, told the New York Times.
The report also shows that depressed people, if they do use a filter on Instagram, they tend to use the Inkwell filter. Furthermore, The New York Times summarizes, “Depressed participants were more likely to post photos containing a face. But when healthier participants did post photos with faces, theirs tended to feature more of them, on average.”
The most important thing is to remember is that reaching out for professional help is key. If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting 741741.