Suicide Prevention: What are the warning signs and how can you help?

September 12, 2018

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Magdalena Spariosu, M.D. contributes to topics such as Behavioral Health.

Ramon Solhkhah, M.D. contributes to topics such as Behavioral Health.

This summer, designer Kate Spade and chef, author and television personality Anthony Bourdain both died by apparent suicide within one week. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates have been rising steadily over the years (from 1999 to 2016), increasing 25% nationally.

September 9-15 is National Suicide Prevention Week and provides a chance for us to pause, connect with each other and have candid and open conversations about mental health.

On the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s website, an important message is shared – “It’s about the connection we each have to the cause, whether you’re a teacher, a physician, a mother, a neighbor, a veteran, or a suicide loss survivor or attempt survivor. We don’t always know who is struggling, but we do know that one conversation could save a life.”

What are some of the warning signs?

“Drastic changes in behavior or entirely new behaviors could be a sign that someone you love is considering suicide,” explains Magdalena Spariosu, M.D., chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at Hackensack University Medical Center. “This is especially true if that person is going through a traumatic or emotional time, such as loss or a painful event.”

“Sometimes you might see an increase in alcohol use or drugs or withdrawal from activities that person used to love, such as social outings with friends,” says Ramon Solhkhah, M.D., professor and founding chair, Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Health at Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University and chair, Department of Psychiatry at Jersey Shore University Medical Center. “Sleeping too much or too little, giving away personal items that they value or showing signs of aggression are also warning signs,” Dr. Solhkhah adds.

“Overall, there is no single thing that causes someone to take their own life, but 90% of people who die by suicide have an underlying mental disorder at the time of their death” adds Dr. Spariosu. “If you know someone is suffering from major depression or anxiety, and that person exhibits verbal or behavioral cues that they are considering suicide or displays significant mood changes it’s likely they need additional support.”

What can you do to help?

“First and foremost we can’t be afraid to talk to someone who we think might need help,” shares Dr. Solhkhah. “As difficult as it may feel at times, we need to be able to move past the stigma associated with mental health issues and be open about your care and concern for your loved one.”

When approaching the conversation, The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides these specific Do’s and Don’ts:

  • Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide.
  • Be willing to listen. Allow expressions of feelings. Accept the feelings.
  • Be non-judgmental. Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether feelings are good or bad. Don’t lecture on the value of life.
  • Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.
  • Don’t dare him or her to do it.
  • Don’t act shocked. This will put distance between you.
  • Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Seek support.
  • Offer hope that alternatives are available but do not offer glib reassurance.
  • Take action. Remove means, like weapons or pills.
  • Get help from people or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.

“It’s so important to not only reach out, but continue to follow up with that person,” shares Dr. Spariosu. “Showing repeatedly that you are there for someone could help prevent suicidal thoughts or attempts.

Supporting survivors: don’t abandon them, and don’t pull away, even though it may be difficult and uncomfortable.

For a loved one, family, or friends struggling with thoughts or attempts at suicide, a phone call or message can mean the world. Put aside your discomfort with the subject, simply being there for them could change the course of their life. And for every suicide that cannot be prevented, there is a family struggling with an incomprehensible loss, and most likely accompanying feelings of guilt and questioning if there was more they could have done to prevent it. The survivors and family of a suicide death will often find themselves isolated and impacted by a judgmental society that cannot understand the uniqueness of their loss and mourning. Please be aware that they need your support and comfort more than ever in the weeks, months, and years after their loss. Their lives will never be the same, and are deserving of respect, outreach, and compassion from all of us.

If you or a loved one is suffering from mental illness or has suicidal thoughts, all our hospitals at Hackensack Meridian Health offer 24 hour crisis services. Call any of the numbers below for help or dial 911.

Hackensack University Medical Center/Bergen Co. Crisis Hotline: 201-262-HELP
Jersey Shore University Medical Center: 732-776-4555
JFK Medical Center:732-321-7601
Ocean Medical Center: 732-836-4664
Riverview Medical Center: 732-219-5325
Raritan Bay Medical Center – Old Bridge: 732-442-3794
Raritan Bay Medical Center – Perth Amboy: 732-442-3794
Palisades Medical Center: 201-854-6300
Mountainside Medical Center: 973-429-6963
Pascack Valley Medical Center: 201-781-1300
Southern Ocean Medical Center: 609-978-8972
Bayshore Medical Center: 732-219-5325

You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) , or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

To learn more about Behavioral Health Services at Hackensack Meridian Health, visit HackensackMeridianHealth.org/BehavioralHealth.

The material provided through Health Hub is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.