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Could You Help Prevent a Suicide? Know the Warning Signs
  • Posted September 12, 2021

Could You Help Prevent a Suicide? Know the Warning Signs

Knowing the warning signs of suicide can save a life, experts say.

Suicide is the 10th leading overall cause of death in the United States, and number two among people between the ages of 10 and 34.

Most suicides result from depression. It can cause someone to feel worthless, hopeless and a burden on others, making suicide falsely appear to be a solution, according to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.

"Suicide risk is very hard to predict," said Dr. Paul Nestadt. He's an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in Baltimore. "Even seasoned experts are hard pressed to accurately determine the risk."

The general warning signs may include a change in usual activities; isolation; losing interest in people and activities that previously brought joy; new or increased use of drugs or alcohol; unintentional weight loss or low energy; negative self-talk; and suicidal thoughts, Nestadt said in a Hopkins news release.

More than 15,000 people under the age of 34 died by suicide in 2019 in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. John Campo is director of the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He said, "Pandemic or no pandemic, suicide kills way more kids than infectious diseases every year, including during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even if we take the pandemic off the table, we've been asleep to the risk of suicide to kids."

Nestadt and Campo acknowledged that suicide is hard to discuss, but they explained that talking about it openly and honestly can help save a life.

Nestadt said, "If you are concerned about someone having suicidal thoughts, it is appropriate to ask 'Are you having thoughts that life is not worth living?' or 'Are you thinking about suicide?' These questions will not 'plant the idea' or otherwise increase the risk of suicide, but they are good ways to tell if someone may be at risk."

Here are some ways you can help a loved one:

  • Offer help and support and encourage them to get care.
  • Limit access to weapons. Guns should be locked away or removed from the house. Even small barriers can be lifesaving.
  • Reach out for help when struggling. Be honest and trust your support system.
  • If you think your child might be at risk, talk with his or her pediatrician or mental health professional.
  • If you or a loved one is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. It's available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and all calls are confidential.

More information

For more on suicide prevention, visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

SOURCE: Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, news release, Sept. 9, 2021

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