Managing Stress and Emotions - Penn State Altoona

Suicide

Be aware of the warning signs

There is no typical suicide victim. It happens to young and old, rich and poor. Fortunately there are some common warning signs which when acted upon, can save lives. Some signs to look for include:

  • Talks about committing suicide
  • Has trouble eating or sleeping
  • Experiences drastic changes in behavior
  • Withdraws from friends and/or social activities
  • Loses interest in hobbies, work, school, etc.
  • Prepare for death by making out a will and final arrangements
  • Increases their use of alcohol or drugs
  • Gives away prized possessions
  • Has attempted suicide before
  • Takes unnecessary risks
  • Has had recent severe losses
  • Is preoccupied with death and dying
  • Loses interest in their personal appearance

Be aware of Feelings

Many people at some time in their lives think about committing suicide. For most, the crisis is temporary. Others perceive their dilemma as inescapable and feel an utter loss of control. Other suicidal people think they can't:

  • Stop the pain
  • Think clearly
  • Make decisions
  • See any way out
  • Sleep, eat, or work
  • Get out of depression
  • Make the sadness go away
  • See a future without pain
  • See themselves as worthwhile
  • Get someone's attention
  • Seem to get control

What to Do

If you suspect someone is in trouble, you need to ask about suicide.

Tips for asking the question:

  • Be persistent, even if the person is reluctant to discuss their feelings, hang in there.
  • Take the time to talk to the person alone and in a private setting.
  • Allow the person to talk freely, don't worry about what you are going to say next, listen with your full attention.
  • Have resources with you, such as the local crisis number 814-889-2141.

The most important thing is asking the question, not how you ask.

Helpful suggestions to determine if someone is thinking of suicide

  • "When people are as upset as you are, sometimes they think about hurting themselves. Have you had thoughts of suicide?"
  • "You look pretty miserable, are you thinking about hurting yourself or suicide?"
  • "Do you ever think about killing yourself?"

Less Helpful

  • "You're not thinking about suicide, are you?" This implies that you don't want to know if they are thinking of suicide, it does not promote open communication.

Note: If you can't ask the question, find someone who can, it is a matter of life and death.

How do you persuade someone to get help?

  • Listen to the problem, give them your full attention. Suicide is not the problem. It is merely a solution to a problem the person has lost hope in solving.
  • Do not pass judgment, that only shuts down communication.
  • Offer hope in any way you can. Reinforce that alternatives are out there and it doesn't have to be this way forever.
  • Ask them if they will allow you to get help. You may need to call, walk, or take them to get help. Or you may ask them to promise not to hurt themselves until help is arranged. Although you may fear a refusal of help, most people will say yes because of your willingness to listen without judgment.
  • Sometimes providing encouragement to the person by saying things like, "I want you to live, I'm on your side, or We'll get through this, is enough encouragement to get them to accept help.

How do you refer someone?

  • Seek out professional help.
  • You may also get others involved who care about the person, such as family, friends, religious leaders, etc.
  • If the person refuses help, seek consultation from someone at the Health and Wellness Center, the local crisis center 814-889-2141, or the national suicide hotline 1-800-273-TALK.

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

Here are some tips when helping someone who is threatening suicide:

  • Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide.
  • Be willing to listen. Allow expressions of feelings. Accept the feelings.
  • Don't dare him or her to do it.
  • Don't be sworn to secrecy. Seek support.
  • Take action. Remove the means.
  • Be non-judgmental. Don't debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or feelings are good or bad. Don't lecture on the value of life.
  • Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.
  • Don't act shocked. This will put distance between you.
  • Offer hope that alternatives are available, but do not offer global reassurance.
  • Get help from persons or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.

Resources

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