Know the Warning Signs of Suicide

By Jason M. Carlton, APR

The recent death of Robin Williams from an apparent suicide has brought national and international attention to a problem that can impact almost any family. Suicide is a tragedy for the friends and family of the person who felt others would be better off without them. And oftentimes, friends and family aren’t sure how to help someone who’s struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide. But the fact is… there is help.


One of the quickest resources for those thinking of taking their own life is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You’ll be able to speak with a trained crisis worker who’ll listen to your problems and tell you about the mental health services in your area. The call is confidential and free, and friends or family concerned about a loved one can also call for help and support in a crisis.

"Major depression has a lifetime suicide rate of 10-15 percent, which is worse than some forms of cancer," said Ted Wander, MD, medical director of inpatient psychiatry at LDS Hospital. "The tragedy of suicide due to depression is that depression is treatable through therapy and medications."

Knowing the warning signs of suicide can save the life of a friend or family member. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, most of the time, people who kill themselves show one or more of these warning signs before taking action:

-       Talking about wanting to kill themselves, or saying they wish they were dead

-       Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as hoarding medicines or buying a gun

-       Talking about a specific suicide plan

-       Feeling hopeless or having no reason to live

-       Feeling trapped, desperate, or needing to escape from an intolerable situation

-       Having the feeling of being a burden to others

-       Feeling humiliated

-       Having intense anxiety and/or panic attacks

-       Losing interest in things, or losing the ability to experience pleasure

-       Insomnia

-       Becoming socially isolated and withdrawn from friends, family or others

-       Acting irritable or agitated

What should you do if you suspect someone is suicidal?

The most important thing you can do is to take the warning signs seriously. Don’t blow it off and think they are just messing around. Fifty to 75% of all people who attempt suicide tell someone about their intention. The time to act is now.

The Suicide Prevention Lifeline lists 10 ways to help someone who’s threatening suicide:

-       Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide.

-       Be willing to listen. Allow the person to express their feelings and accept those feelings.

-       Be non-judgmental. Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether feelings are good or bad. Don’t lecture on the value of life.

-       Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.

-       Don’t dare him or her to do it.

-       Don’t act shocked. This will put distance between you.

-       Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Seek support.

-       Offer hope that alternatives are available but do not offer glib reassurance.

-       Take action. Remove means, such as guns or stockpiled pills.

-       Get help from persons or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.

For those seeking additional information about the services available to help treat those with major depression or suicidal thoughts, call LDS Hospital's Behavioral Health Outpatient Clinic in Salt Lake City at 801.408.8500 or 801.408.4200 during regular business hours. In a crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).