How to Recognize Risk and Help Prevent Suicide by Melissa Howard


Dealing with all the pressures of modern life can be overwhelming, and when someone reaches their breaking point, suicide can seem like the only option. According to the American Psychological Association, there was an “alarming” increase in the US suicide rate, up 30 percent between the years of 2000 and 2016.

It’s crucial to know what to look for, and how to respond. 

If you feel someone is at immediate risk of suicide, call 911. If you are concerned in general, talk things through and offer your contact information as well as that of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is available 24/7 by calling 1-800-273-8255.  

Along with offering support, those who are struggling can benefit from developing an emotional wellness team. For instance, social workers are often qualified to diagnose psychosocial problems and can help improve personal coping and social skills. The team could include other professionals as well. A counselor can help to address issues such as addiction, and clergy members are often trained to help those in emotional distress.

Here are some indicators that someone you know may be seriously considering suicide.   

Severe Mood Swings   

Sudden mood swings are common in people considering suicide, and may or may not relate to mental health issues such as bipolar disorder.    

Change in Habits   

A marked decrease in caring for one’s appearance, such as no longer shaving or showering, or dressing appropriately for classes or work, could indicate someone is experiencing depression and might be at risk for suicide. Often, making particular preparations, such as giving away personal belongings or even buying pills, guns, or knives, can also signal someone is suicidal.   

Drug and Alcohol Abuse   

Suicide and substance abuse are deeply intertwined. As California Highland Vistas explains, abusing substances can reduce someone’s inhibitions, leading to the conclusion suicide is the best choice. Oftentimes, people use substances in an attempt to self-medicate when they don’t feel good about their lives. High-risk drug use is associated with criminal charges, deteriorating health, financial instability, and spiked depressive disorders –– all risk factors for suicide.  If someone you know is having issues with substance abuse, seek immediate help. Sometimes their insurance may cover counseling for addiction issues. Seniors who are covered by a Medicare Advantage plan (like one from UnitedHealthcare) may have access to counseling for alcohol abuse.  

Isolation from Friends and Family   

People with suicidal thoughts often experience a sharp withdrawal from friends and family. Traumas such as divorce, unemployment, health setbacks, or the death of a loved one can be so jarring that people draw away from others around them. A growing body of research indicates that loneliness can be as much of a “silent killer” as obesity or smoking.   

Hopelessness and Despondency   

Exhaustion or sluggishness, a marked decrease in appetite, diminished interest in sex, a change in sleeping patterns, hopelessness regarding aspects of life (social life, credit card debt, etc.) and a loss of pleasure in one’s favorite activities and hobbies can all signal that someone is seriously considering taking one’s life. Be particularly alert if someone talks about suicide or to describes oneself as a burden to other people.   

Talking things through

Talking with someone you suspect is struggling can be a challenge.

Here are some guidelines to help:

  • Tell the person that you are concerned. Be understanding and gentle but also direct.

  • Act quickly. If you suspect someone plans to commit suicide, assess the severity of the risk. You can call emergency services or a suicide prevention hotline, or take the person in danger to the emergency room. Never leave a suicidal person alone. 

  • Be supportive. The worst thing you can do is act shocked or to pass judgment on someone who is suicidal. Instead, listen, extend your support, and let your loved one know that he or she is not alone.        

Everyone experiences low points throughout their life, and sometimes people see no way out of it.  If you notice someone struggling, reach out to them. By intervening, you could save someone’s life and set them on a path toward hope. 

Melissa Howard is on a mission to prevent suicide.

Learn more by visiting her website,

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