I have been asked by people about what are the “signs” that tell you when someone is struggling with thoughts of suicide. I want to start by saying that no two people are the same and there is no rubber stamp that says do this, and you will save lives. If there were, we’d be able to prevent them all. The fact is that it sometimes is very tough to know or tell when someone is struggling and oftentimes only becomes clear after the act or an attempt.
Please understand that you can’t save everyone, however, I do believe we can make a difference. If we can help save the life of one person… We have made a huge impact. My goal is to help save many more than just one, but I can’t do that alone. As a matter of fact, there is little that I can do alone to help to save the masses that are struggling, and that’s not my focus. My focus is on what I CAN DO.
What I can do is provide you with a list of signs and symptoms that might let you know someone is struggling. A list of actions that we need to be observant of in the lives of those around us. I could fill countless pages with all of the red flags, but let’s take a look at some of the most common signs: 1. Talking about suicide - Understand that subconsciously our loved ones might let it slip on where their thoughts are. A lot of times this happens in general conversation after you have been talking a while. That is why it’ is so important to stay in contact and talk with the ones we love and care about.
2. Withdrawing from friends and family – Allowing those closest to opportunity to adjust to someone not being there. This is heartbreaking. So often we as parents write this off as a “phase that they’re going through” and leave them alone to “work things out”. Let’s choose to stop doing that! Instead let’s start asking questions and let them know that they matter and that we are genuinely concerned for them. When they talk, STOP EVERYTHING THAT YOU ARE DOING AND LISTEN TO THEM.
3. Obtaining the means to take their own life – This one does not need a lot of explanation. If we know someone is struggling, and they're asking for something out of the ordinary or even if it just seems odd… Ask questions and keep them talking until you can come up with a plan to get help. Understand it is not your job to save someone. It is our job to get the help and services that are available to us to get the help needed.
4. Severe mood swings or personality changes – When struggling with thoughts of ending one’s life, there are possibly a lot of emotions pouring out. If they are afraid, we may see frustration, and anxiety. On the flip side, and more concerning, they may be at peace with their thoughts, and be less anxious than normal or less concerns about anything in the future. When we see these changes, we need to be asking questions.
5. Feeling trapped or hopeless – A feeling as if there is no way out of these thoughts or “feelings”. A thought pattern that they are broken and can’t be fixed. In my Upshift presentation, I talk about my best friend, Seth. When he was struggling his mom took him to a therapist and when you got home, he admitted that it did nothing for him, and refused to see another. He felt that he was broken and beyond repair. This is a horrible lie that we tell ourselves to justify the action.
6. Risky or destructive behavior – I will give you another sign that I missed with Seth. When I lived in Ada, OH. I was on State Route 81, driving home from Lima and seen a silver car forever in the distance in my rearview mirror, but realized that it was gaining on me at a rapid pace. Understand that back then with the sportscar that I had, few people ever passed me! A few moments passed and I realized that this car was gone and yet it was not coming around me on the left side… I look to my right and see Seth smiling ear to ear, passing me in the ditch in his silver Chevy Citation. A car that was barely built for the roads, much less a ditch. Pretty risky behavior. Seth had no fears of getting in trouble with the law. He was not planning on being around long enough for it to matter. Another sign that I missed.
7. Increased use or abuse of drugs and alcohol – When someone is struggling with thoughts of suicide, they do not want to die! They just want the pain to stop. Drugs and alcohol provide that short period of “relief” from the mental anguish that they are struggling through. So many people think of adults when they read this one, yet I tried cocaine for the first time when I was in the 8th grade.* If someone starts using drugs, at any age, pay attention.
8. Giving away things of value – This is one that our Police Chief said is a huge sign that someone is nearing the final stage in their planning. All of us have certain things that we hold dear to ourselves. Things that we would NEVER PART WITH. If we find ourselves being asked to accept something that they would never part with… Start asking questions. Get involved and do not allow them the opportunity to follow through, by whatever means necessary.
I’ll let you go with this. Do whatever it takes. Do not allow fears of getting your loved one in trouble or not wanting them upset with you get in the way of making the right decision. If I were able to do it all to do over again, I would have called 911 ten out of ten times. I would have rather him be mad at me than to have had to carry him to his grave.
If you need to talk to someone about your own struggles, and you do not feel comfortable speaking to a loved one, there are options. Don't hesitate to make the call or chat online. 1-800-273-8255
*Trends in Prevalence of Various Drugs: https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/trends-statistics/monitoring-future/monitoring-future-study-trends-in-prevalence-various-drugs
**National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/