For most of us, the signs of suicide may be difficult to identify. However, it is important to know what to look for, to ensure you are alert if someone you know and love may be at risk. Individuals have thoughts of suicide for a variety of reasons, and often some of these reasons are unknown to those around them. That is why it is important to be able to identify both the physical signs of suicide and the situations that are likely to predict an individual to feel suicidal.
The following acronym, SUICIDAL, is useful in determining those individuals who may be at heightened risk of suicide and the situations involved:
S SEX: Women attempt suicide more often than men but men complete suicide more often than women.
SIGNIFICANT OTHERS: Single, divorced or widowed people are more likely to attempt suicide than those who are married. Living alone also increases the risk of suicide. Caring for children is a protective factor.
STRESSFUL LIFE EVENTS: Such as loss of a loved one, financial problems, and job loss may make suicide attempts more common.
U UNSUCCESSFUL ATTEMPTS in the past make it more likely future attempts will be successful.
UNEMPLOYMENT or being retired is associated with increased risk.
UNEXPLAINED IMPROVEMENT in clinical features may indicate suicidal thoughts, i.e. sudden disappearance of depressive features
I IDENTIFICATION with other family members who have committed suicide may make suicide a more acceptable option to some.
CI CHRONIC ILLNESS or severe illness of recent onset, either psychological or medical, increases the risk of successful suicide. Depression, bipolar disorder, and acute schizophrenic episodes are associated with high risk.
D DEPRESSION, hopelessness, helplessness, frustration, and hostility are associated with increased risk.
A AGE: Generally the older the individual, the greater the risk of suicide although not necessarily true for older women.
L LETHALITY of previous attempts. Guns, hanging, and jumping from high places are generally more lethal than drug overdose or wrist slashing.
However, even without such predictors, an individual may present as a risk of suicide or self-harming behaviour. It is important to acknowledge any differences in their behaviour, including isolating, a change in sleep patterns or appetite, a lack of interest in past activies they enjoyed, an unwillingness to discuss their situation and feelings and possible physical signs of emotion, such as crying and mood swings that were not common before.
If you belive someone you know is at risk of suicide, it is important to talk to them and show them support. Most individuals ideating about suicide feel as though no one cares and they are alone. If you show them this is not true, that alone can be a major factor in helping them get the right help. Or if you do not feel confident in helping yourself, refer them to someone who can. Just ensure this person has someone they can seek support from.