Suicide Risk factors and Tips for Support

Suicide Risk factors and Tips for Support
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Suicidal Ideation refers to when someone believes that they are better off dead. A suicide attempt refers to when someone engages in an action with the purpose of ending their life. According to the CDC, in 2020 12.2 million Americans seriously thought about suicide, 3.2 million created a plan for suicide and 1.2 million attempted suicide. That is about 1 death every 11 minutes. These eye opening statistics are reminders of the importance of being informed about mental health and more importantly risk factors for suicide. Jack Klott, author of “Suicide and Psychological Pain,” breaks down risk factors into 3 categories: psychiatric disorders, social stressors and psychological vulnerabilities.

Klott identified that the following disorders are often liked to higher risk of suicidal ideation/ attempts: 

  • dysthymia, 
  • major depression with psychotic features, 
  • schizophrenia, 
  • bipolar disorders, 
  • generalized anxiety disorder, 
  • post traumatic stress disorder, and 
  • addiction. 

Characteristics that make these disorders particularly concerning include: rates of comorbidity (simultaneous occurrence of 2 or more disorders), regularity of symptoms, perceptual challenges (ie: hallucinations and/or delusions), and decreased decision making ability. While these disorders can be risk factors mental health and illness operate on a spectrum thus, these risk factors identify a higher possibility of occurrence but do not discern a definite occurrence. 

Klott’s second category of risk factors identified social stressors that contribute to suicidal ideation/ attempts. Factors identified include: 

  • feelings of loneliness, 
  • losing a close relationship, 
  • feeling as if love is conditional and needs to be won, 
  • being socially isolated, 
  • losing a sense of identity, and 
  • struggling with acculturation. 

One of the most natural human instincts is the instinct for community, thus feeling the loss of social support is a particularly troubling occurrence. 

The last category of risk factors is psychological vulnerabilities, which Klott identifies as life long patterns of maladaptive coping and problem solving skills. Some behavioral patterns that illustrate these issues include: 

  • seeking lots of validation from others, 
  • limiting emotional expression, and 
  • self hate/blame. 

Someone continuously seeking reassurance tends towards perceiving love as conditional and that speaks to an inherent struggle to cope and problem solve. When viewing love as conditional, rejection is internalized and there is no space reserved for challenging thoughts about worthlessness or inadequacy. Constriction of emotion is also a maladaptive because it does not allow for emotional release or connection with others. Lastly, self hate and blame at its core is the belief that we are incapable of solving and navigating life’s problems. 

If someone were to disclose that they were experiencing suicidal ideation here are some tips that can help you navigate the situation: 

  • Take a moment to assess your reaction before responding. They have just revealed something very personal, so we want to express concern without making them feel like they need to comfort us. 
  • Don’t be afraid to be direct. Saying the word suicide or asking questions about their experience won’t intensify their struggle.
  • Your relationship with them is important but their life is more important. It is okay to disregard someone’s wishes of privacy for the purpose of helping them.
  • Take time to process your own feelings about the disclosure, as it is an emotionally intense situation that needs decompressing. 

If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health issues including suicidal ideation please utilize the national life line at 988. If you fear that you for someone you love is in imminent danger please contact 911. 

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