It's World Suicide Prevention Day. Here's how to spot warning signs

Jacquie Cosgrove
·5 min read

The coronavirus pandemic has had a significant effect on mental health everywhere, and concerning new data shows that depression rates among adults across all demographics has tripled from this time last year.

Suicide rates were already on the rise well before the pandemic. Yahoo Life Mental Health contributor Jen Hartstein says it’s vital that we discuss how this traumatic event has impacted our mental health.

“Suicide is the second leading cause of death for 10-24-year-olds, and ranks 10th as a cause of death amongst all other ages,” Hartstein tells Yahoo Life. “We know that suicide rates are increasing incrementally as a result of quarantine, economic instability, isolation and other significant factors ... we might only be seeing the tip of the iceberg in the numbers that we're seeing with regard to suicide.”

September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day, and Hartstein says it’s never been more important to learn the warning signs to look out for when someone is struggling.

Talking about death

“Anyone talking about death, even in an offhanded way, but that sounds different than what we might've heard before, we want to take that threat very seriously,” Harstein says. “Do not blow it off as attention seeking, do not blow it off as a throwaway remark. If something in your gut says that that conversation is worthy of having, have that conversation.”

Seeming more isolated

Hartstein says that it’s important to keep an eye out for changes in the way that people engage and participate in life, which could be particularly difficult to notice while social distancing.

“It's very different because we're doing a lot of this through video teleconferencing and we're not in their faces, but maybe they're not responding to texts, maybe they're not answering the phone, maybe they're not getting on that Zoom meeting,” she says. “Ask how they're doing.”

Change in behavior

Hartstein advises that any behavioral changes we may notice that reflect depression should not be brushed off or problem-solved away.

“If they're sleeping a lot or maybe they're not sleeping at all, or maybe you notice a drastic weight loss or weight gain, or they're talking about eating or not eating. Maybe they're looking a little bit more disheveled or you're just feeling a different mood from them,” she says. “Our guts give us a lot of information about the people in our lives, and we've got to trust our gut that something's off.”

Sept. 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. (Photo: Getty Images stock photo)
Sept. 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. (Photo: Getty Images stock photo)

The Suicide Prevention Lifeline lists additional potential warning signs as:

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves

  • Looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun

  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live

  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain

  • Talking about being a burden to others

  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs

  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly

  • Sleeping too little or too much

  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves

  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge

  • Extreme mood swings

Don’t be afraid to ask

Hartstein shares that one of the biggest risk factors for suicide is the stigma that comes along with talking about our emotions.

“Very often we don't ask people because we're afraid we are going to hurt your feelings or offend them or make them mad or make them feel worse,” she says. “You're not giving them the idea. If in fact that thought is already happening, you might be providing a very safe space that's validating and allows them to be open about how they're actually doing.”

Try to get access to them

If you’re worried that someone you know may be suicidal, Harstein says the first thing you want to do is try to get access to them.

“It's hard in this time of COVID, but can you show up at their house? Can you call a family member that might be living with them? Can you reach out to support around them to make sure that they are not alone?” she says. “The second thing we want to think about is, are there firearms in the house? Is there any access to any sort of lethal means? We want to get them away from any sort of access that might allow them to act on the urge to kill themselves.”

Get the help they need

Harstein advises that you should never hesitate to call for additional help for someone in need.

“Do we need to call 911? Do we need to get them to an emergency room? If they're in treatment, do we need to get them to a therapist? Or do we call a national hotline?” she says. “Any of these resources are awesome and getting the help to somebody that you need very quickly.”

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255, and the Crisis Text Line can be reached by texting HOME to 741741. These resources should be called even if you’re not the one in need of help, but you want to find a way to better support the person who is.

“Everybody's mental health has been impacted by the pandemic, some of us more than others, so don't be afraid to ask someone how they're doing. Don't be afraid to tell someone how you're doing and don't be afraid to ask for help.” Hartstein tells Yahoo Life. “The more we talk about how we're feeling, the greater the likelihood we can bring down the statistics of suicidal thinking and suicide rates, and we can all be working towards building a life worth living.”

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is open 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255.

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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