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  • Writer's pictureDaniel Shaw

Suicide Prevention: 3 warning signs to monitor when a loved one is suicidal

If at risk or in doubt, call SuicideLine on 1300 651 251 for support.

It can be a great challenge to determine risk when a loved one is feeling suicidal. As a general rule, we always recommend anyone with a concern to call SuicideLine 1300 651 251 to get immediate support and assistance. That said, sometimes we might not be certain whether it is worth acting on our concerns for fear of "making matters worse" or "preventing them from helping others who really need it". So, in order to help you determine when to act, here are 3 evidence-based signs that suicide is a risk:

Warning Sign 1: Risky behaviours

Risky behaviours can include a wide range of actions, but generally, these could be: reckless sexual behaviour, dangerous driving, excessive consumption of alcohol or other substances, criminal activities like theft and assault, or some other form of risky behaviour. While taking risks is normal, these more dangerous behaviours can indicate that the person's ability to make rational and helpful decisions is impaired. Furthermore, they may be struggling to identify ALL the potential impacts of their decision (e.g., "I'll feel alive" versus "I'll feel alive but I may hurt myself, regret it later and make matters worse in the long-term"). It is important that we try and help the person see these outcomes when risky behaviours develop. If they continue to engage in dangerous and risky behaviours, seek support.

Warning Sign 2: Agitation

Agitation can include: an incessant need to move around or pace, becoming upset in certain places or when focused on specific details, frequent checking and adjusting of clothing, wringing one’s hands, frustration in response to questions or slow actions, or other repetitive and intense behaviours. Agitation can develop in response to a wide array of stresses but is a serious warning sign when suicide is an issue. When we become agitated, we may become increasingly reactive to problems and challenges that arise in our daily activities. This reactivity is potentially dangerous when thoughts about self-harm or suicide are present. It is important that we identify this behaviour and take steps to soothe or relax the person. If they continue to appear agitated, seek support.

Warning Sign 3: Impulsivity

Impulsivity has many definitions, but it generally refers to behaviour that occurs without adequate thought regarding the consequences of the behaviour. In other words, it is a predisposition toward rapid, unplanned reactions to experiences without regard to the negative consequences of these reactions. This is an important issue when a person is struggling with suicide as it means they may act quickly, recklessly, and without notifying others. If you know that you or your loved one struggles with impulsivity, seek assistance straight away. There are skills and strategies to address this issue and seeking help is very important in ensuring that safety is maintained.

Do you how to help someone who is suicidal?

When you are talking to someone at risk of suicide, it is important to keep the following things in mind.

1. Empathise with the person and with what they're going through.

2. Tell them that you care and you want to help them.

3. State clearly that, suicidal thoughts are often associated with a treatable mental illness. This will help to instil some hope in the person.

4. Let the person know that, suicidal thoughts are common and need not be acted upon.

Suicidal thoughts are often, a desperate attempt of getting away from problems or distressing feelings and a plea for help. These people need an opportunity to talk about their feelings and problems. Let them do most of the talking if possible, as this will be a relief for them. Avoid 'solving' the problem for them, but try and talk about the problem and discuss ways that they can deal with it.

How the warning signs were identified:

These warning signs were identified in a study by the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP). The study evaluated 2,811 patients suffering from depression, of whom 628 had previously attempted suicide. Many parameters were studied, including previous suicide attempts, family history, current and previous treatments, and, the patient's clinical presentations. The lead author, Dr Dina Popovic, reported that depressed people who display "risky behaviour", agitation and impulsivity are at least 50% more likely to attempt suicide. Furthermore, Dr Popovic identified that most of these "mixed" or "manic" symptoms would not be identified by the person unless a clinician inquired directly.

Do you see the warning signs? Seek help. Call SuicideLine on 1300 651 251 for immediate support.

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