Recognizing and responding to suicide warning signs

September 20, 2022
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month — a time to raise awareness and shift perception of this often-stigmatized topic, raise hope, and share information to help people affected by suicide.

Suicidal thoughts, much like mental health conditions, can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, or background. In fact, suicide is often the result of an untreated mental health condition. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 90 percent among those who die by suicide have experienced symptoms of a mental health condition. Along with being reluctant to discuss mental health issues in general, many people are uncomfortable discussing suicide. But experts agree that the best course of action is talking directly and openly when there is a threat of suicide. By reaching out for help or checking in with friends and family, we can avoid devastating outcomes.

Know the warning signs and increased risks

Cigna, the administrator of the Employee Assistance Plan (EAP), offers suicide awareness and prevention information, for help with understanding the warning signs and risks factors as well as what to do when you have concerns that a loved one, friend, or colleague may be having suicidal thoughts. Warning signs may include

  • making direct statements about ending one’s life;
  • making indirect comments such as, “What’s the point of living?” or “No one would miss me if I were gone;”
  • talking or writing about death or dying (one’s own or the topic in general), including social media posts;
  • mentioning having the means and/or a plan for self-harm, such as access to pills or firearms;
  • giving away possessions;
  • showing interest in end-of-life affairs, such as making a will, discussing life insurance details and/or funeral preferences, etc.;
  • appearing uncharacteristically sad, quiet, depressed, or withdrawn;
  • neglecting their work, appearance, or hygiene; and
  • voicing feelings of hopelessness or helplessness.

Seeing one or more warning signs in a person who has suffered a significant loss may indicate increased risk. Examples could be a death or divorce, a relationship breakup, the loss of child custody, a home foreclosure, bankruptcy, or job loss. Other significant risk factors are severe financial stressors, legal problems, an event causing disgrace or shame, substance abuse, and impulsivity.

What to do

If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide:

  • Do not leave the person alone.
  • Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs, or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.
  • Call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (previously known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline).
  • Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.

Keep in mind, suicidal thoughts are a symptom. Like other symptoms, including those of mental health conditions, they can be treated — and they can improve over time. Learn about mental health resources available through the Board of Pensions.

Source: Cigna