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Suicide prevention: How to recognize the warning signs

Five signs that may mean someone is in emotional pain and might be at risk for suicide. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Chris Botzum) Five signs that may mean someone is in emotional pain and might be at risk for suicide. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Chris Botzum)

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For some, everyday life can bring forth demanding situations which may carry a great emotional and psychological burden. And when dealing with such, a person may consider thoughts of suicide or self-harm as the only solution.

The ability to detect when someone is dealing with difficulties in their personal lives can be a challenge, according to an expert on the subject of psychological health.

“While some warning signs can be difficult to notice at times, it can be helpful to listen carefully and consider what a person may be communicating indirectly,” said Dr. Mark Bates, associate director of psychological health promotion at the Deployment Health Clinical Center (DHCC), which is a part of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE). “Listening well is very important if you have concerns about someone’s emotional state.”

Bates stated if a person begins talking about death, or wishing to die, contact emergency help or a medical professional immediately. ”Be careful to be supportive and non-judgmental,” he said. “The psychological and emotional pain one endures when contemplating suicide can be immense. If someone you know has attempted suicide before, or has access to an effective means to commit suicide (possession of a firearm, pills, etc.), get in touch with someone and express your concerns.”

Bates also noted individuals need to pay attention to non-verbal signs that a person may be contemplating suicide. “Mood swings, staying away from family and friends, or if someone no longer has an interest in activities they would enjoy doing otherwise, those can be indicators as well,” he said.

Wendy Lakso, director of outreach and education for the Defense Suicide Prevention Office (DSPO), says that understanding why people die by suicide can be a complex issue. “We know people who die by suicide don’t take their life for one reason, it’s really a host of reasons,” she said. “If you think a friend or loved one is exhibiting signs of hopelessness or other warning signs, speak up and ask them if they’re thinking of harming themselves. If they say ‘yes’, offer your support and connect them with support services, for example chaplain, mental health provider, or the crisis line immediately.”

Lakso stated if you believe someone you are concerned about is not in immediate danger to themselves, continue to offer your support by reaching out to them so they are not feeling isolated and alone. “Ask them to go for a walk or run, because exercise releases endorphins which can improve one’s mood,” she said. “Invite them to volunteer or be part of a social group you’re involved with, as being connected socially is a protective factor. And make sure they are eating and getting sleep. It’s very important to let them know you are there for them.”

For more information about suicide prevention, please visit: DoD Suicide Prevention

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