Preventing Suicide Through Life Skills Training and Resilience

Suicide is often the result of manageable mental health disorders that aren’t treated. But there are also protective factors against suicide, including life skills training and resilience.

Educating people on risk and helping them remove lethal means from their homes, such as guns or medications, can reduce suicide attempts. Other protective strategies include psychiatric treatment and gatekeeper education.

Identifying People at Risk

Suicide is a global concern that affects people of all ages and backgrounds. While some people are at greater risk for suicide, anyone can be affected by the underlying dynamics that lead to self-destructive behavior.

Several warning signs can indicate that a person is at risk of suicide, including changes in mood, increased isolation and talking about death or hopelessness. A person may also be planning or trying to buy items that can be used for suicide, or searching suicide methods online.

It’s important for primary care providers to be familiar with the warning signs of suicide so they can recognize them in their patients. Additionally, identifying people at risk can help them stay connected and safe with the support of healthcare professionals and loved ones. This can reduce their feelings of isolation, prevent them from accessing dangerous objects like weapons and improve their chances of receiving treatment. This is why preventing suicide is such an important goal to work toward as a community.

Identifying Suicide Triggers

When someone shows warning signs of suicide, it is important to talk to them and listen to them without judgement. These conversations can be a way to connect them with support and resources. It is also helpful to remove any weapons or medications that could be dangerous from the home, if it is safe to do so.

There are two types of suicidal ideation: passive and active. Passive suicidal thought is when you wish that you were dead or that you would die, but you do not have a plan to kill yourself. Active suicidal thoughts include a plan to take your own life or actually trying to kill yourself.

People who have a history of depression or anxiety are at higher risk for suicidal thoughts. Certain medicines, including some antidepressants, can also cause suicidal thinking as a side effect. Being socially isolated and a lack of access to healthcare services are also risk factors.

Identifying Support Networks

The CDC recommends strategies for supporting people at risk, including teaching life skills and problem-solving to help them manage challenges; reducing access to lethal means, such as by educating the family of someone with suicidal thoughts on safe storage of firearms or medications; and connecting them to effective mental health and physical care.

One example of a suicide prevention strategy is the Alternatives to Suicide program, which runs open group discussions facilitated by trained peer supporters. These discussions address the reasons for suicidal feelings and are based on the key principles of Validation, Curiosity, Vulnerability and Community. [28]

These kinds of initiatives and programs can be delivered either in formal delivery through specifically designed services/programs or in informal delivery through existing community-based initiatives. For example, the organization Project QPR provides training for laypeople to recognize warning signs of suicide and know how to connect a person at risk with help. This program is free and available online or through in-person trainings.

Identifying Resources

Suicide is a complex public health problem that requires strategies at the individual, community and system levels. Some examples of risk-reducing interventions include limiting access to lethal means, providing suicide warning signs education and training, implementing suicide screening, improving telemental health care and promoting postvention after a suicide.

Protective factors include life skills such as critical thinking, stress management and coping. They also include cultural identity, a strong sense of purpose and hope, a support network and feeling connected to the community.

A number of tools are available to help people who may be experiencing a crisis, including suicide hotlines and resources for military members and their families. Gatekeeper training, such as QPR Institute’s train-the-trainer program, teaches the general population how to identify suicide risk and connect someone to intervention services. Suicide prevention programs that promote community connection and social support can decrease loneliness, isolation and feelings of marginalization. Strengthening household financial security can buffer suicide risk by reducing stress and hardship.