The Medical Minute: Volume 1, Number 9

By: Nadia Kuley, PhD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Director, Counseling and Psychological Services
540-887-7106; [email protected]

Learning about suicide awareness and prevention can help save lives. Suicidal thoughts and feelings may be experienced by any individual, regardless of age, gender, race, sexual orientation, or mental health history. Similar to any health crisis, it’s important to respond effectively and quickly to de-escalate the situation.

Individuals can become suicidal even when they are actively in treatment and have been compliant with recommendations. Researchers have found that well over 50% of people who die by suicide had a history of a mental health condition. Other risk factors and warning signs include:

  • History of abuse/trauma
  • Availability of firearms
  • Substance use/alcohol intoxication (One in five had alcohol in their system at time of death.)
  • Family history of suicide
  • History of a previous attempt
  • Medical conditions
  • Changes in personality, hygiene, mood, social withdrawal
  • Disruptions in sleep and appetite
  • LGBTQ adults and youth are at a greater risk of suicide attempts and death by suicide
  • Gender: A greater number of women attempt suicide; men are four times more likely to die by suicide.

How you can provide support

Be open and honest about your concerns for the well-being and safety of your friend or loved one.

It’s okay to ask directly if they have thoughts about suicide and whether they have a plan. Asking someone if they’re thinking about suicide will not “give them that idea.” Most people may feel relieved to talk about how they’re feeling.

Try to stay calm, be patient, and most of all, express that you care. Do not argue (i.e., “life’s not so bad”), threaten, or become angry during your interaction. Instead, reflect their thoughts and feelings back with empathy and validate their experience. If at all possible, remove guns, knives, or medications that may be accessible.

Reassure them that they are not alone, they are important, and their current feelings of hopelessness and wanting to give up will change. If they receive mental health treatment, ask if you can assist with contacting their mental health provider.

Finally, do not leave your friend or loved one alone. Reach out for help by contacting 911, the suicide and crisis support lifeline (text or call 988, for free help that is available 24/7). If you’re a student at MBU, contact Counseling and Psychological Services at 540-887-7281, or after-hours call MBU Safety and Security for the on-call professional at 540-887-7000.