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Suicide Prevention: Determining if Someone is Suicidal

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

Man thinking on a train journey.

Man thinking on a train journey. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the years, I have talked to many, many parents, partners, and spouses about what to do if you think someone you love might be suicidal. There are really two parts to figuring out about suicide, 1. determining whether someone is indeed suicidal, and 2. if the person is suicidal, figuring out the level of risk and making sure they are safe. I am going to tackle one section a week so stay tuned for next weeks post. I want to state at the beginning of this post that, of course, my advice here is general and should not be substituted for individualized mental health advice. If you absolutely know someone is suicidal, please take them to the nearest emergency room or contact your local mental health hotline. And, if you are reading this post because you have someone you are concerned about, even if they are not suicidal, please do your best to encourage and support them in seeking therapy as soon as possible. There are mental health services available to many in the United States even if you are under-insured or are not able to afford counseling.

Determining whether someone is suicidal

There are times when you absolutely know someone is suicidal, either you found a note, they told you they were, you find them in the process of attempting, etc. But other times it can be more difficult. Sometimes parents tell me they think their adolescent is saying they want to die in order to get attention. If this is happening, please stop for a moment to think how desperate you have to feel about getting attention in order to say this. I want to make sure that you know that, even with young children, any indication that someone is suicidal needs to be taken seriously. Even if you think they are trying to get attention, don’t you think it would be a good idea to give them some if things have gotten this extreme? I’ve actually come to know of quite a few people via the work that I do who have tried to “get attention” by attempting suicide in the hopes that someone would notice them. I wonder how many suicides are just that, someone thinking they are doing something to get attention but they actually end up dying. Pay attention! Here is what I recommend to all parents who tell me that their child is saying they are going to kill themselves for attention. Tell them you need to take any statement like that seriously and ask if they are serious. If they say that they are, take them to the hospital. Here’s the thing, I know you might say to yourself, “I don’t want to waste the time of the hospital personnel” or, “This kid is trying to waste my time.” Take them to the hospital. Tell them you love them and that you have to take this threat seriously. Sit with them for the hours it takes to be seen. If they are not suicidal, they will be so bored and so over it that by the time you have finished with it, they will never want to have to do that again. You will have nipped a nasty reaction in the bud. The alternative when you take them to the hospital is finding out that they were, in fact, serious and you took them right where they needed to be anyway.

Here’s the thing about the hospital. They are busy. They don’t want to take your child, your friend, spouse, etc. unless they think they need to. Just like they are not looking to keep people for any extra time after surgery, they are not looking to take in people who do not actually need to be there, so please do not worry, the person you take will not be admitted unless they need to be, in which case, you did the right thing.

Warning signs

Other times, you may have someone who you care about who you fear may be suicidal and not telling. Maybe they have had a series of unfortunate circumstances or are having a mental health issue, like a depressive episode. Here are some warning signs that a person is more likely to consider suicide as an option:

  • They have had recent loss such as a death in the family, ending of a significant relationship or loss of a job.
  • They have a history of depression. Depression is characterized in adolescents differently than it is in adults. Adults tend to have a loss of interest in their usual activities, difficulty attending to tasks, a sense of hopelessness. In children and adolescents, depression more often manifests as irritability and anger.
  • They have friends or family members who have committed suicide.
  • They have mentioned, even just in passing, that they should just kill themselves, or that they wish they could die. Sometimes they may talk about everyone being better off without them.
  • They suddenly begin giving away important items you would not expect them to give away and seem to be suddenly peaceful after a period of difficulty.
  • They begin to isolate themselves from friends and family members.
  • They have increased alcohol or drug use and/or impulsive or reckless behaviors.
  • They have previously attempted suicide in the past.

If you notice any of these symptoms, please take these next steps to ensure that your loved one is safe. Better safe than sorry, as they say. It is especially true in this case.

Stay tuned, next week I will write about what to do to support someone if you fear they are suicidal. In the meantime, here are a few resources.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

How to Know When You or Your Child Need a Therapist (help4yourfamily.com)

October 4, 2012 Posted by | keeping children safe, Suicide | , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Monday is Parent Affirmation Day at Help 4 Your Family! 5/21/2012

an animated clock

an animated clock (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

Get ready to laugh and tell me I’m wrong!  I have heard many versions of this affirmation but the person I got it from is the mother of affirmations herself, Louise Hay.  This week’s affirmation is:

Everything is happening at just the right time.

I know you do not believe me but give me a minute to talk you through it.  I know it feels like things happen too slow, too fast, or at just the wrong time!  This affirmation requires a little faith that there is a plan for us.  Even if you are not a believer in a higher power, doesn’t it just make life simpler to believe that everything is happening at just the right time?  I use this affirmation when I am running late and, I’m happy to tell you that when I use it, and believe it, everything does happen at just the right time.  One time I used it recently was when I was running late to meet my daughter at school because I had promised I would eat lunch with her.  I hate running late.  I decided that I was going to obey traffic laws, and I just repeated to myself over and over that things happen at just the right time.  I was still five minutes late, but guess what?  The lunch before my daughter’s ran over by five minutes and I actually ended up entering the cafeteria at the same time she did.  I also had not stressed myself out on the way there, which would require me to calm myself down before I could be present for my daughter.

You can use this affirmation for big things too.  Birth, death, illness, and entering a romantic relationship, are all things that come to mind.  Before you think I am trivializing any of those transitions I just mentioned, I want you to know I have experienced all of them, just like you.  Carrying with me the belief that everything is happening at just the right time even if I don’t understand it, gets me through a lot and I will share a personal story to demonstrate how this affirmation has come true in my own life.

When I was a child, just about to turn nine, my older brother, who was just about to turn 12, died suddenly from an undiagnosed illness the summer before he would be entering middle school.  I would never wish this on anyone, and no- there is never a good time for this to happen, but there might be a right time.  Move forward in time to the night I met my husband for the first time.  I was at a party and one of my brother’s friends, who I had not seen since he died, walked into the party with another friend.  He actually was pretty shocked to see me and had a pretty strong reaction when he realized who I was.  We started talking and he introduced me to his friend- my future husband.  Had my brother lived and gone on to middle school, he and his friend would have probably drifted apart, since they were going to go to different schools.  His friend might not have had the same memories of me that caused him to come right too me to talk and introduce me to his friend.  My husband and I might not have had a strong immediate connection and who knows what might have happened?  I can’t imagine my life without the husband and children that I have.  I wouldn’t change a thing about them or about my life right now.  This is one way that I make sense of the death of my brother.  Everything happens at just the right time.

Even if it is hard to believe right now, try this affirmation out.  Say it many, many times to yourself.  Remind yourself that you don’t have to know the “why” of things happening, but that they are happening at just the right time.

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May 21, 2012 Posted by | affirmations | , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

   

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