Suicide Prevention: Risk factors, Red Flags, and How to Get Help

September is National Suicide Prevention Month and before I get too far into it, I want to acknowledge those of you who have lost someone due to suicide. Death by suicide can be filled with so much stigma, that it can be very hard to grieve their death. I posted on social media about Suicide Prevention Month and a friend, who lost their son to suicide, reached out and said that this month is hard on them because it makes them feel like they should have prevented their son’s death. For those of us who have lost someone to suicide, we can feel a tremendous amount of survivor’s guilt, which is normal, but we cannot let it consume us. It is important that we try not to spend our time in the past focusing on the “what if’s” – we need to find people we can trust to help us process everything, share our loved one’s story, and, when we are ready, help to educate ourselves and others on suicide prevention techniques.

Supporting Who Has Lost a Loved One to Suicide

If you are supporting someone who has lost a loved one from suicide, there are a few things that I would like you to know:

  • They still want to talk about their loved one and would appreciate you bringing them up. Even though suicide can feel like a taboo subject, the griever still loves them very much and wants to talk about them.
  • The guilt and sadness can be a lot to bear, truly ask them if they are okay and if they want to talk. Letting them know that you are open to talking and able to listen can be a big relief.
  • Try to stay away from cliches like “everything happens for a reason” and “you will move on eventually” – things like this can be harmful and signal that they can’t share their full feelings. Instead try phrases like “I am sorry that this happened” and “I know this is a lot, I am here to listen and support you as long as it takes.”
  • Emotions around suicide loss can be very complex and hard to understand, encourage them to get additional support from a trained professional.
    • If you start to worry about their mental health, you can point them to the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 by text or phone call or join an online chat at 988lifeline.org.

How to Help Someone Who’s Struggling

Now let’s switch gears and talk about suicide prevention. Suicide prevention is something that all of us can take part in, and being conscious of possible risk factors and red flags/warning signs is an important way to help:

  • Risk Factors may include things like mental illness in the individual or their family, traumatic events, being a military member or first responder, not having a strong support system, substance use, bullying, social isolation, being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community, and personal struggles like employment, financial, marital, health, etc.
  • Red Flags/Warning Signs may include things like increased isolation, talking about being a burden, mood swings, anxiety, anger, expressing hopelessness, excessive tiredness, and making comments about “leaving” or “dying.”

It’s also important to learn what you as an individual can do to help with suicide prevention:

  • If and when you can, reach out to that person at work or school who seems lonely and might need a friend.
  • Strengthen bonds with those you feel comfortable with and be vocal about your love and support. Let people know that you are a safe person for them to confide in and are willing to be a person that can open up to.
  • If you know someone that you think might be struggling, ask them directly. Don’t skirt around it, be direct.
  • If someone confides in you, and you are able to, help them find support and resources.
    • Start with the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, they can call or text 988 or join an online chat at 988lifeline.org.

If You Need Help

I want to end this by saying that if you are struggling with suicidal ideations, know that you matter. I recognize that it doesn’t always feel like it, but you deserve to taste a delicious homemade breakfast, to watch a play that moves the deepest parts of your soul, to smell a fresh bouquet of flowers, to feel the sunshine on your face, to hear the laughter of good friends – you deserve all that is good. As someone who has been in the trenches before, I want you to know that your brain is lying to you. No matter what it tells you, there are people who love you and will miss you deeply. Right now, it is hard and dark and scary, but I promise it will get better, maybe not all at once, but little by little you will come back to yourself. I hope you will choose to stay, not just for the world or your people, but for future you. Your story matters. Please reach out to the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 (text or call) or join an online chat at 988lifeline.org.

For more information on suicide prevention, please visit our Suicide Prevention Resources page.

Kristen Tomlinson, the author of this post, is a Peer Coach at Youturn Health and works to support people struggling with stress, anxiety, mental health, and suicidal ideation.