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Suicide: Know the Signs

Suicide: Know the Signs

What are the warning signs of suicide?
Can certain events make people kill themselves?
What if I am in crisis?
What if I am just thinking about suicide?
How do I get help?
Will medication help me?
Will I need to be in the hospital?

What are the warning signs of suicide?
Everybody is different, so there really is no typical person who tries to kill herself. But there are some danger signs to watch out for. For example, you should probably begin to worry if your friend does the following things.
  • Makes a lot of comments about suicide or about the wish to hurt herself. These are often signs of depression. You may have heard that people who talk about suicide never go through with it. This is not true. In fact, if your friend starts saying things like "You won't have to put up with me anymore," or "I wish I were dead," or "I just can't stand this anymore," she is clearly in danger.
  • Gives away her favorite CDs and her coolest jewelry and clothes. Or writes a farewell letter. Or starts saying good-bye to friends with words like "Thanks for everything you've done for me." These are signs that she is thinking seriously about suicide.
  • Acts or talks as if no one cares about her. She says things like "I feel like I'm all alone," or "Nobody cares if I live or die," or "My family would have been better off if I had never been born."
  • Seems suddenly cheerful after being depressed for a long time. One of the most confusing things about suicide is that people sometimes try to kill themselves after they are already starting to feel better. When a person is depressed, she may not have the energy to think about suicide. But once she has her energy back, she may think that suicide is a way to have control over her life. (Of course, just the opposite is true.)
  • Writes about death in poems, songs, or papers for school, or draws pictures with death themes.
  • Has a lot of accidents. If a few accidents happen in a row—if your friend totals her parents' car a few times in just a few months or if she always seems to be falling or cutting herself—she may need help. Your friend is probably not doing these things on purpose, but she may be doing them unconsciously. This means that she has some feelings—deep down—about wanting to hurt herself. She could have been hiding these scary feelings inside for a long time—even from herself.
  • Does risky or dangerous things. If your friend drinks and drives, experiments with illegal drugs, has unsafe sex, or does other things that could hurt her or get her into a lot of trouble, she could be having suicidal thoughts.
  • Is having a lot of symptoms that are similar to the ones for depression. Some of the most common symptoms of depression are:
    • eating a lot more—or a lot less
    • sleeping too much—or not enough
    • feeling tired all the time
    • not enjoying much of anything at all
    • feeling angry and irritable most of the time
    • wanting to be alone a lot
    • getting bad grades for the first time
    • not being able to concentrate
These are some of the warning signs that your friend could be in trouble. If anything you've just read reminds you of someone you know, be sure to read The Dos and Don'ts of Helping a Friend on the Brink. back to top

Can certain events make people kill themselves?
No single thing can make someone want to kill herself. As we've been learning, suicide doesn't pop up out of the blue. Most teens who commit suicide give clues to other people beforehand. That's why it's so important to know the warning signs. A person who wants to kill herself almost always has deep problems, such as depression or alcohol abuse or drug abuse that can lead up to suicidal thoughts or a suicide attempt.

But for teens who are already in danger of killing themselves, certain stressful situations can trigger a suicide attempt. Here are some of the most common:
  • a break-up with a boyfriend or girlfriend
  • big disappointments, like not making the tennis team or failing a class
  • trouble at school or with the law
  • major family changes, like a divorce or a death
  • bad arguments with parents
  • an unplanned pregnancy
  • a friend or family member committing suicide
  • drinking alcohol or taking drugs
For most people, these problems would be very upsetting. But for people who don't feel well, they can be overwhelming. The main thing to remember is this: people who attempt suicide are crying out for help. Their cries should never be ignored.

If anything you've just read reminds you of one of your friends, be sure to read The Dos and Don'ts of Helping a Friend on the Brink.

If anything you've read so far reminds you of yourself, read on. back to top

What if I am in crisis?
If you are in crisis right now, if you are making real plans to kill yourself, get help right away. If it's too hard for you to call a friend or an adult you know, then call 911 or your local emergency number. The operator can send someone out to help you. If you'd rather call a suicide hotline to talk with someone or ask for help, that's OK too—as long as you do it right away. back to top

What if I am just thinking about suicide?
If you are feeling sad and blue, and you think suicide could take your troubles away, here are some things to consider.
  • Sometimes when people feel down or very hurt, they think their lives don't matter much at all. Sometimes they even think they'd be better off dead. This is not true. It would be terrible for your friends and family if you were not alive, even if you don't feel that way right now. Think about it. How would your mom or your best friend or your little niece feel if you took your own life? Or what if your sister or your dad committed suicide? That awful feeling would stay with you for the rest of your life. Sometimes it's just good to remember that there are people who love you and care about you.
  • Sometimes it seems as if the crummy feelings you have right now will last forever. But, in fact, all feelings are temporary. That can be very hard to keep in mind, especially when you're feeling so bad. Sometimes, a terrible case of the blues can even cause you to forget all the good times you've ever had. That great day at the beach last summer. That awesome party a few weeks ago. Or just the everyday stuff that usually makes you happy—painting your nails, playing with your dog, talking on the phone. When you feel down in the dumps, it's easy to block out these memories. Remind yourself of this: you'll have more good memories. The good feelings will be back. Maybe not today. But if you get the right kind of help, they'll be back soon. back to top
How do I get help?
It can seem pretty hard to get help when you're feeling so low, but it's extremely important that you talk with someone soon. Most teens who think about suicide are depressed. Depression can happen for many reasons and can show up in many different ways. Many teens who attempt suicide have serious problems with drugs or alcohol. Sometimes, anxiety disorders can also make someone suicidal. To find out for sure why you feel so terrible, you'll need to see a health professional.

First, a health professional will want to do an assessment. This is a good way for the health professional to learn more about you so that he or she can figure out the best ways to help you. You'll be asked a lot of questions about how you feel, what you are thinking, and what's going on at home and in school. The health professional will want to find out if you are in danger of hurting yourself or if you have a drug or alcohol problem.

Once the assessment is finished, your health professional will probably recommend some kind of talk therapy. This means that, once or twice a week, you'll meet with a therapist who listens to you carefully and helps you explore all the different thoughts and feelings you've been having. Talking usually makes people feel much better, and it can even give you some extra confidence. You will probably tell your therapist things that you've never told anyone else before. That can be a little scary, but don't worry. It is your therapist's job to keep whatever you say completely confidential. A therapist is not allowed to tell your secrets to anyone, including your parents, unless you are in danger of hurting yourself or someone else. There are different kinds of talk therapy. Ask your health professional to tell you about the options. back to top

Will medication help me?
Many medications that are used to treat depression are also used to treat suicidal feelings, which can come from depression. Your health professional, along with you and your parents, will decide if you should try a medication for depression or a medication for some other illness.

It's good to remember that medication can't help you figure out why you are feeling blue or how to get rid of your troubles, but medication can take away some of the symptoms you are having. It can also help people who are suicidal stay alive until they feel better.

All medications can cause side effects, like nausea, dry mouth, and constipation. Or they can be dangerous if they are mixed with other medications or with drugs or alcohol. Your health professional should talk with you about these risks. If the first medication you take does not help, your health professional may ask you to try another one. Remember that it can take a few weeks before you begin to feel the effects of a medicine.

Never, ever take a medication that a friend offers you. That's dangerous—and it's against the law! back to top

Will I need to be in the hospital?
If your health professional thinks you are in danger of hurting yourself, you may need to stay in the hospital for a while, until you are safe to be by yourself again. In an inpatient (hospital) program, you will get care and support 24 hours a day. You will see a psychiatrist or some other mental health professional every day, and you may have some kind of group therapy. Most people stay in the hospital for just a few days. People who are very sick may need to go to a residential treatment program, where they can live for a few months until they recover enough to go home again.

If you need more care than you are getting at home and with talk therapy, but do not need to be hospitalized, there are special day-hospital treatment programs. These programs give you some extra support, but allow you to live at home and sometimes even go to school. back to top

Last Modified Date: 2/23/2001
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Why the Wish to Die?
The Dos and Don'ts of Helping a Friend on the Brink