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Prevention and Intervention: Suicide

This article is the final installment in a three-part series from the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) on helping the loved ones of service members identify the signs of brain injury and mental health issues.

Everyone can benefit from honest conversations about mental health and suicide. Just one conversation may save someone’s life. DCoE is dedicated to suicide prevention efforts, and connecting the PDF: military community to the best resources available.

What Leads To Suicide?

PDF: Suicidal thoughts, much like other mental health conditions, can affect anyone regardless of age, gender or background. While there is no single cause, many people who have suicidal thoughts are struggling with a mental health condition. Depression is a common condition associated with suicide and it’s often undiagnosed or untreated. Suicidal ideation can happen when stressors affect a person with a mental health condition and those stressors exceed their immediate coping skills.

Veterans Health Administration (VHA)

The Warning Signs

Suicide prevention starts with recognizing the warning signs and taking them seriously. Most people who take their own lives, or attempt to, exhibit one or more warning signs leading up to the event.

Common Warning Signs

Speech

  • Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide

Behavioral

  • Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities - seemingly without thinking
  • Withdrawing from friends, family and society
  • Seeking access to firearms, available pills or other dangerous means

Mood

  • Feeling hopeless
  • Expressing rage or uncontrolled anger, or seeking revenge
  • Feeling anxiousness or agitated
  • Talking about intense feelings of guilt or shame

Prevention and Intervention

A suicidal person may not ask for help, but that doesn't mean they don’t want it. If you suspect that someone is considering suicide, it is critical you take the following actions:

  • Ask: are you thinking about killing yourself? If a person is thinking of suicide, they may be relieved and grateful that you were interested and nonjudgmental. It shows him you truly care and take him seriously. Stay calm, but always take thoughts of, or plans for suicide seriously.
  • If she answers “yes,” ask: Do you have a plan? You’ll want to know the plan and if the means are accessible. Ask when she plans to do it. The more information you have, the better.
  • Do not leave the person alone! Asking about a plan will give you an idea if the person is in immediate danger. A suicidal person must see a doctor or psychiatrist immediately. You may have to take him to the nearest hospital emergency room or call 9-1-1.
  • Never keep a plan for suicide a secret. Do not worry about breaking a bond of friendship at this point. You can repair friendships.
  • Show you care. If you think the person isn’t in immediate danger, offer your support and actively help her find a health care professional. Stay with her as she makes the first phone call, or go along to the first appointment. A supportive person can mean so much to someone in pain.
  • Locate resources. Service members in crisis can immediately get help by contacting the Military Crisis Line. Family members and friends of service members or veterans can also use the Military Crisis Line to reach immediate help. During times of non-crisis, DCoE has a 24/7 Outreach Center dedicated to helping find resources in your area.

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This page was last updated on: September 28, 2017.