Recognizing Suicidal Ideation In Others- And How To Help:

Blog , Self Harm , Suicide



Recognizing Suicidal Ideation In Others- And How To Help:

Updated June 2018:

Suicide is one of the toughest issues to talk about. It is quite possibly one of the most devastating choices that one could make, is difficult to understand, and unpleasant to think about. Even the word ‘suicide’ typically causes an emotionally charged reaction, whether in the head, the heart, or in the body.

Because of the traumatic overtones, lack of understanding, unwavering stigma, and feelings of helplessness associated with this issue, it stays hidden in the corner-misunderstood and often ignored.

Even though there are more questions than answers, starting a conversation regarding the harsh reality of suicide is necessary, as suicide rates are rising.

According to the CDC, U.S. suicide rates increased more than 25% since 1999.

While many other causes of death are on the decline due to medical advances and technological breakthroughs, suicide rates keep climbing for every age group under 75, and the suicide rate is now the highest it has been in 30 years.

A distressing trend is beginning to present itself, and it involves the demographic with the largest percentage increase, with suicides tripling over 15 years from .5 to 1.7 per 100,000 people.

Do you wish to take a guess as to which demographic this belongs to? Alarmingly, it belongs to young girls ages 10-14. This is becoming an issue that affects all of us, as this reality is no longer something that exists in the distance- it could be living next door to you.

While all of this information is distressing, there is good news. You don’t have to be an expert in mental health to recognize symptoms of suicidality or self-harm in others, and you have the opportunity to help save a life.

If you notice a change in personality or disruption in normal everyday activities in the life of another, it is helpful to pay attention to the following behaviors referred to as the ‘Six Week Warning Signs’:

  • Extreme psychological turmoil (increase in agitation, irritability, changes in sleep/eating habits, increase in substance use)
  • Verbalized comments of despair/fatalism
  • Anhedonia (finding no pleasure in activities that previously brought enjoyment)
  • Shame-based preoccupation with the past
  • Apathy toward life and anticipation toward death
  • Refusal to seek help
  • No capacity for future-oriented thinking

In addition to the Six Week Warning Signs, it is possible for a person to turn a corner and begin displaying more inconspicuous signs of suicidality. There is a stark shift referred to as ‘the amazing reversal’ that occurs when a person has resigned to this fate.

The following are often considered to be the ‘Six Day Warning Signs.’ They include:

  • A rapid onset of peace and calm
  • A dramatic change from the six-week warning signs
  • Avoids acknowledgment of behavior shift
  • Denies the need for help

If you suspect that your loved one is in crisis by considering the Six Week/Six Day Warning Signs, take them to the nearest emergency room or call 911.

Additionally, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) (8255) offers trained counselors who can connect you with crisis response resources in your area.

In addition, it is helpful to know what to say in times of crisis. Remember these simple questions in assessing whether or not a person is thinking of harming themselves:

  • Are you thinking of taking your own life?
  • Have you thought of how you might do it?
  • Do you have access to carry it out?
  • Have you considered when you might do it?

If the answers to any of these questions are ‘yes’, assistance is required. Ideation begins with thoughts to harm the self with no intention to carry it out. At this stage, counseling is recommended in order to get to the root of those thoughts and feelings. As the above questions progress and details of self-harm or suicidality emerge, this warrants a more critical response. Again, take them to the nearest emergency room or call 911.

If you or someone you knows is searching for answers, consider calling The Refuge Center at 615-591-5262 to begin counseling. There is always hope, and we are here to help.

**The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) (8255) is also available at any time, even if you are unsure of what to do.

Bichelle, R. E. (2016, April 22). Suicide Rates Climb In U.S., Especially Among Adolescent Girls. Retrieved April 28, 2016, from

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