If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately.

Suicide is one of the most pressing health issues in the country today, but it’s also one many people are reluctant to discuss openly. With September designated as National Suicide Prevention Month, this is a great opportunity to help shed the stigma around suicide.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) one in five adults will experience a form of mental illness this year. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the 47,173 suicides in 2017 makes suicide the 10th leading cause of death in the nation. But the problem is even more pervasive than even those alarming numbers. NIMH reported that in 2017, 10.6 million adults aged 18 or older reported having serious thoughts about trying to kill themselves.

Those numbers are staggering and reveal a deep level of anguish among the people in this country. Many of those people do not get any kind of professional help and many don’t even tell another person they have had thoughts of harming themselves. That’s why it’s so important for others to recognize, and act on, signs of trouble.

How You Can Help

As a nurse, you have a level of interaction with so many different people every day, so noticing subtle signs is important. It’s essential to know the warning signs of someone in crisis.

Depending on your specialty and your typical workday, your nursing career might not bring people in obvious mental health crisis into your day. That doesn’t mean your patients aren’t struggling. Friends and family might also be hiding their serious despair, so knowing what to look for and how to listen and interpret is helpful.

Warning Signs

Suicide Awareness Voices for Education offers the following behaviors as warning signs that someone is in danger and needs help:

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated, or reckless
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

If you notice something is worrisome, for instance a friend’s social media posts have started to mention that “the world would be better off without me” or a struggling colleague’s behavior with drugs or alcohol is increasingly reckless, it’s okay to ask about it.

It’s Okay to Say Something

Saying something in a nonjudgmental way is best and helping that person find a professional to talk to is going to be helpful. Call a crisis line for immediate help or bring them to the ER, especially if you think they are in imminent danger of hurting themselves. It’s also probably going to be awkward and may not be met with affection, but generally those behaviors are the way someone might ask for help without really asking for help.

In your workplace, see if you’re able to post crisis hotline numbers, so others can have immediate access to the information—either for themselves, their patients, or someone they are concerned about.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil is a freelance writer based in Bolton, Massachusetts.
Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

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