Recognizing the warning signs of suicide & how to help

Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, and September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

Dr. Iram Kazimi, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, spoke about the warning signs and what to do to prevent it.

Dr. Kazimi says there is not just one identifiable cause.

"It's really a combination of a lot of things. There are risk factors, there's signs that people can look for – increasing isolation, talking about like people feel like they're a burden, starting to give things away, feeling like they just don't belong. So, I think because there are more opportunities for people to feel isolated, that seems to be the most common thing," Dr. Kazimi says.

So, what can you do to help if you notice these behaviors?

"Sometimes it just takes sitting with that person, letting them know that they are not alone, that they are not a burden. One of the things, especially for teenagers, but this is very true for young adults and middle-aged folks as well because suicide rates are rising in adults as well as in children, is that letting them know that they are of value. And I think the most difficult part is when things seem very, very lonely, people tend to kind of get into a spiral. A downward spiral," she says.

For some, just hearing "cheer up" is not helpful.

"Sometimes what they're hearing is ‘if I could cheer up, I would. This is not a choice that I'm making.' So, you know, ‘get up', ‘snap out of it', those are not helpful things. Things that are helpful are validating their feelings that it does seem really hard, but we're going to get through this together. ‘How can I help you? What can I do?' The most important thing is letting them know they're not alone, because they're not," Dr. Kazimi says.

When is it time to seek counseling and get help?

"Anytime you feel that someone is not safe, that's the time to reach out for help. It can be your primary care provider. It can be a mental health professional. You can call the suicide crisis hotline. It can never really be too early. I always caution and tell people it's better to be safe and reach out for help sooner rather than later," she says.

If you or a loved one is feeling distressed, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The crisis center provides free and confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, seven days a week to civilians and veterans. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or text 741-741.