By Don Stangler, UnitedHealthcare chief medical officer
September is National Suicide Prevention Month, which offers a good time to raise awareness to help reduce the stigma around mental health issues. This could be an important step to lowering suicide rates over the coming years.
Suicide is on the rise nationally. According to the most recent statistics, more than 45,000 Americans died by suicide in 2020, making it the 12th leading cause of death in the U.S. Even though mental health awareness is increasing, the stigma surrounding suicide still exists. The fear of judgment or discrimination may prevent people suffering with a behavioral health issue from seeking the treatment they need. Without help or treatment, the feelings of hopelessness and loneliness may build, leading one to consider thoughts of taking their own life.
For those with behavioral health disorders, like depression and bipolar disorder, there may be an increased risk of suicide. For example, research indicates the rate of suicide for those who have bipolar disorder is 10 to 30 times more than the overall population.
That said, there are often warning signs that a person may be struggling to help you identify when intervention may be needed. Almost eight out of 10 people offer some sign they are considering suicide. Regardless of whether you know someone who’s currently struggling with mental health, it may be helpful to learn how to help spot some of the signs of suicide and understand how to intervene.
The following warning signs might mean a person is considering suicide and therefore may need urgent help:
- Discussions about being a burden
- Being isolated
- Increased anxiety
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Increased substance use
- Looking for a way to access lethal means
- Increased anger or rage
- Extreme mood swings
- • Expressing hopelessness
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Talking or posting about wanting to die
- Making plans for suicide
Research shows that even talking candidly with or just being there for a person who’s in a dark mental state may help reduce suicidal thoughts. If a support system or person steps in early on, it may ultimately help save a life.
Consider these five tips on how you can start a conversation with them:
1. Show that you’re concerned in a way that is not confrontational or judgmental. Let them know that you care about them and you’re concerned about recent changes you’ve noticed in their mood or behavior.
2. Keep questions simple. Ask how they’re doing, what they’re feeling and how you can help provide support.
3. Suggest reaching out to a local recovery support resource. Ask if they have thought about seeking support from a professional trained to help with these types of issues. A growing number of mental health care providers offer virtual visits that can help make it easier for people to access mental health care when they need it. Many employee assistance programs also offer mental health support.
4. After your initial conversation, remain engaged with them and check in regularly. Having consistent support from family and friends may help make a huge difference in people’s well-being. Encourage your friend or loved one to stay in touch and even expand social interactions.
5. Take action if the individual is not receptive to your help and displays intent to kill themselves. If someone is threatening to hurt themselves, searching for ways to take their life or consistently talking, writing or posting about death and suicide in a way that seems out of character, you should take action and call 911. Even though you may worry about the individual becoming angry with you, it can be the difference between life and death. That’s worth calling 911 for.
By taking these steps to be there for someone who is struggling, you may be able to play a part in helping to save their life. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. It’s free, confidential and available 24 hours a day.