Preventing Suicide by Reaching Out

If you’re concerned about a friend or loved one, it’s vital to reach out and offer support. Doing so is a powerful antidote to suicidal thoughts and feelings.

Preventing suicide is a collaborative effort that involves everyone. It begins with identifying people at risk and connecting them to care.

Identifying People at Risk

People who have a history of mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety, are at a higher risk for suicidal thoughts and behavior. They are also more likely to have attempted or completed suicide.

A family history of suicide is another factor that can increase the risk of suicide. Those who have experienced sexual abuse, physical or emotional abuse are also at increased risk.

Identifying and connecting people who are at risk to help is essential for suicide prevention. It includes teaching patients to recognize when they are at risk and helping them find resources and supportive relationships that promote social connectedness.

Detecting those at high risk for suicide requires a broad-based approach that involves all members of a hospital or health system. This includes screening for suicide risk in emergency departments, inpatient behavioral health units, primary care offices and specialty clinics. It also requires a robust referral process that includes a suicide risk assessment when a patient is admitted due to suicidal symptoms.

Providing Supportive Relationships and Community Connectedness

People are more likely to be healthy and thrive when they have strong, trusting relationships and social networks. These connections allow us to share our thoughts, feelings, and concerns with others, which helps us cope with stress and anxiety.

Supportive relationships can be provided by a variety of methods, including through support groups, community resources and mental health services. Helping people develop resilience – the ability to cope with adversity and adapt to change – is another protective factor against suicide risk.

Resilience-building skills can be learned and practiced in a variety of ways, such as by developing skills training, mobile apps, or self-help materials. Using these tools can help people build a positive self-concept and a belief that they are capable of overcoming challenges.

While preventing suicide is difficult, it’s a crucial public health issue. By providing supportive relationships, talking about suicide, reducing access to lethal means of suicide and following up with loved ones, people can make the choice to live life fully.

Detecting Mental Illness or Substance Misuse

Mental illness and substance use are both health conditions that can cause distress and problems functioning in social, work or family activities. These disorders are treatable, but they can also be preventable.

People who experience a mental health condition and are using drugs or alcohol in ways that cause harm are at risk of suicide. If you are concerned that someone you know may be struggling with a mental health and substance use disorder, seek help.

You should pay special attention to any signs of uncharacteristic anger, anxiety or irritability or other strong emotions. This can be a red flag for a mental health issue, particularly if it’s causing your loved one to cancel or avoid normal social activities or standard communication.

Many people diagnosed with a mental health disorder also have a substance use problem. They often have a tolerance to the drug or alcohol they are using, meaning they need larger amounts of the substance to feel its effects.

Providing Access to Treatment

In all health care settings, a suicide-risk-screening and referral protocol should be in place for patients with suicidal thoughts or behaviors. It should include active engagement, safety planning, lethal means reduction, direct treatment of suicidality and ongoing supportive contacts to prevent relapse or a return to risk.

Behavioral health clinicians need to be better trained in the assessment and treatment of suicidal individuals. 16 Increasing access to mental health services, including increased availability of mental health parity laws, has been shown to reduce rates of suicide.

While best practices emphasize that safety planning is most effective when it’s part of a larger treatment plan, it can be beneficial to ensure that individuals who decline outpatient care have a safety plan to use if they become suicidal or are in danger of harming themselves. Using telepsychiatry to facilitate this access can be an effective strategy.