Recognizing suicide risk

Want to know one of my biggest pet peeves? When someone talks about suicide, but those who hear it think “eh, they’re just seeking attention.”

Want to know something that really bothers me? When someone self harms or attempts suicide, and those who find out think, “eh, they’re just seeking attention.”

It shocks and horrifies me how often we minimize the risk for suicide around us. Yes, it’s a very difficult topic. It’s scary and difficult to understand, unless you’ve experienced that temptation yourself. But so many people experience suicidal thoughts. And so many people attempt to kill themselves. It might scare us, it might overwhelm us, but it is inappropriate to do anything but take it seriously. God has created each of us in his image, and if we value life, we need to help people who are thinking of taking their own. 

How can we know who is at highest risk of suicide? 

  • Those who are talking about taking their own life are at high risk. 
  • Those dealing with mental illness, addiction issues, or recent major illness or loss are at higher risk. 
  • Those with a history of trauma or abuse are at higher risk. 
  • Those struggling with their sexuality are at high risk. 
  • Those who have previously attempted suicide or who know someone who has recently committed suicide (including celebrity suicides) are at higher risk. 

You may not know every detail of someone’s life, but if you are aware of some of these issues, take warning signs all the more seriously.

What are warning signs that someone is thinking of suicide?

  • Again, if someone is talking about wanting to die, this is a big warning sign.
  • When someone starts giving away important personal items or writing “good-bye” style notes to others, this is a warning sign. 
  • People who talk of feeling “trapped” or “hopeless” or those in chronic and/or intense physical pain are expressing warning signs of suicidality. 
  • If someone begins isolating from their loved ones or withdrawing from activities that they used to enjoy, this is a warning sign. 
  • When people begin increasing risky behavior, such as acting out sexually or increasing their alcohol use, this is a warning sign.  

Last week, we looked at what to do if you are concerned about someone, if you see these warning signs and some risk factors. But the main thing? 

Take it seriously. 

Of course, many people struggle without thinking about suicide. But if you take the risk seriously, you will not offend them. Tell them that you’re worried. Offer care and support. 

And what if someone is just “seeking attention”? How should we respond to that as Christians? We should respond as Jesus would. We should give them attention! They need help. They need friendship, accountability, encouragement, or something more. What they don’t need is a lecture, a laugh, or someone to dismiss their struggle simply because they are (or might be) seeking attention.

This is the third in a series on suicide risk. Check out Dealing with the Aftermath of Suicide and also How to Help Someone Who is Thinking About Suicide.

Written by Jessica Hayes
iHope Communications Director