Kathi Whitten, LCSW - Individual, Couple & Family Psychotherapy

This is a topic many people feel uncomfortable discussing, but one that needs to be more fully understood. Suicide is a tragic decision contemplated by some who, for various reasons, at a moment in time, see no reason to go on living. Why do people think about suicide? Are there warning signs? What help is available?

Thoughts of (or hints/statements about) suicide should never be dismissed. Even if someone has made multiple threats or attempts in the past, that does not mean s/he wouldn’t do it successfully in the future. Sometimes by choice, or it could even be by accident—an expression of despair that goes too far.

Suicide is usually an indicator of a serious depression. It can be something a person thinks about for a while, or could be an impulsive decision. Sometimes people make attempts or gestures, hoping someone will save them. This is not manipulation. It is a way of letting others know how desperate that person feels—and a measure of how important it is to get emergency help.

Someone who is contemplating suicide may be feeling a sense of loss or rejection (self-esteem, job, relationship, health, etc). They may be suffering depression (changes in sleep/appetite patterns, crying, difficulty with concentration, lack of interest in daily activities, isolation, etc). One may see changes in personality—becoming less or more aggressive, quiet, sad, withdrawn or reckless behaviors, etc. There is often an increase in alcohol or drug use. People sometimes (but not always) make cryptic (or clear) statements that they are thinking of suicide. At times, they tidy things up or give possessions away. They may say goodbye to family and friends in various ways, including writing notes. They often have the means for ending their lives easily available.

This is an INCOMPLETE list of warning signs—check with your doctor or a mental health professional for a thorough discussion of indicators of suicide. But do not believe or assume that a person won’t act on suicidal thoughts. This is not a time for watching or waiting.

If you or someone you care about is thinking about suicide, there is no time for delay. Suicidal thoughts, threats or attempts are always a serious emergency. It is urgent that you seek help immediately. In a crisis, it is important to go to your nearest emergency room or dial 911. For help in dealing with underlying depression, or if you have been affected by the suicide or suicidal attempts of someone you care about, psychotherapy can be helpful. Often antidepressant medications are indicated.

I hope this brief discussion has opened a door to helping people reach out for help if needed. Too often people fear to discuss suicidal thoughts, struggling to handle such concerns alone. Help IS available, so please do not hesitate to reach out to someone if you or a loved one are coping with this serious situation.

A good website for further information is: www.mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/suicideprevention

Kathi Whitten copyright 2007