The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) reports that, in the United States alone, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death.
Someone, somewhere across the nation takes his or her own life every 12 minutes. Furthermore, and perhaps even more alarming, the AFSP also indicates that, for every suicide that occurs, 25 more people have attempted to take their lives, a majority of which go unreported.
It is these types of statistics that make National Suicide Prevention Week—which is September 5th through the 11th in 2016—a great time for healthcare professionals to not only realize the prevalence of suicide in our society, but also to learn the signs of someone who is thinking of taking that route, potentially preventing a patient from ending their way too soon.
Know the signs
Carrie Krawiec is a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) at Birmingham Maple Clinic in Troy, Michigan and Executive Director of Michigan Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and she says that there are some common signs that health practitioners can watch for, potentially giving notice that a patient is considering suicide. These include “if a patient is expressing depression, avoidance of activities once enjoyed, withdrawal from friends and family, and making vague, hopeless statements about their life.”
Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) shares on its website that additional behaviors indicative of someone thinking of ending his or her life include: appearing anxious or agitated, increased use of drugs or alcohol, severe mood swings, and displaying rage or talking about revenge.
However, someone who is “suddenly happier, calmer” may be thinking of suicide too, according to SAVE. And someone who is taking steps to get affairs in order or say their final goodbyes is a warning sign as well.
Ask the right questions
If you notice any of these types behaviors or actions, Krawiec says that “It is important to ask fairly directly, ‘Do you have thoughts of killing yourself or wishing you were dead?’” Another option, says Krawiec, is to “consider asking the question on a scale, such as ten is feeling great and zero or one is wishing you were dead.”
If the person responds with a low number or blatantly says that suicide is on his or her mind, Krawiec says that your next step involves asking, “Have you thought about how you would do it?” This is important because, “If there is a thought out plan, and a plan that is plausible, then you have established means. That is, if they say they want to shoot themselves and they indicate they have a gun, then this is a plausible, thought out plan.”
The next question you want to ask, according to Krawiec, is whether they have intent to act on their plan. “If the answers to all of these questions are yes,” says Krawiec, “then you have established thoughts, plans, intent, and means then your client is at high risk for suicide.”
How to respond
As far as how to respond, Krawiec says that “chiropractors may be obliged to duty to warn laws which require if your patient is suicidal that you make a referral to an emergency room or inpatient psychiatric facility.”
To find out for sure if this applies to you, she suggests checking your individual state’s licensing requirements to determine whether you’re required to take this step.
“An earlier option may be to make a written safety contract including a commitment to not act on any plan and who they should call in event of emergency if they cannot uphold this commitment like 911 or a crisis safety number,” says Krawiec.
One to consider providing your clients is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline which can be reached by calling 800-273-TALK (8255).