By: Chris Anderson Psy.D.

In the last article, we talked about the incredible impact and effect that suicide has on individuals, families, and the community. In this article we are going to talk about how to prevent suicide. With proper knowledge and awareness, there are things we can do to intervene and hopefully prevent unnecessary losses.

Predisposed Temperament

The greatest triad of factors that account for most suicides are a person’s predisposed temperament and genetic vulnerabilities, severe psychiatric illness, and acute psychological distress. A predisposed temperament can include things such as an impulsive nature, a tendency to be emotionally volatile and reactive, and genetic vulnerabilities can include a tendency to have mental health issues or even a family history of suicide. By severe psychiatric illness we are referring to severe depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and substance abuse. If one or more of these are going on, a person is it high risk for suicide. Acute psychological distress are often environmental factors such as loss of a job, divorce, or breakup of a relationship to name just a few. Whether it is yourself or a loved one, being alert and on the lookout for this perfect storm can let you know when you need to be aware and possibly intervene.

Temperament may or may not change over time as people learn better-coping skills, and stressors are often unpredictable and hard to control. That said, our best hope for prevention lies in proactively dealing with mental illness. Often, we see people neglect their mental health until it becomes unbearable and severe. For example, if you deal with depression while it is still mild to moderate you can prevent it from getting severe. If you are dealing with substance abuse, it can be a matter of getting assessed and getting treatment to stay sober. In the case of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, it is important to be involved in your own clinical care, being medication compliant, using therapy as an adjunct, reading books, or attending support groups. The more proactive we are, the less reactive we need to be when things get bad and suicidal thinking comes on the scene. Addressing mental health issues is probably our best course of suicide prevention.

If you have a loved one that is actively suicidal it is important to know what to do. You will have to ask some pointed and direct questions. It is important to find out if they are having passive and fleeting thoughts of suicide (“maybe I would be better off dead” and the thought passes quickly within minutes) or if their thoughts are more active and ruminating where it is hard to get them of their head. Obviously active ruminating thoughts are of greater concern. Next, you want to ask if they have thought of a plan on how to do it. If they have, and they have ready access to their plan, you need to be quite concerned. Lastly, you will want to ask if they are intending to kill themselves and when. If they are intending to do so, it is definitely time to intervene and get others involved. It can also be wise to remove access to things like guns, razors, medication they can overdose on, alcohol, poisons, and knives. It can be helpful to express your concern, listen attentively, ask direct questions to see if they have a plan, acknowledge their feelings, try to reassure, avoid leaving the person alone. If they cannot commit to being safe, don’t be afraid to get other people involved. You can contact their psychiatrist, therapist, a crisis intervention team, or even take them to an emergency room to see if they need to be admitted. If they are refusing, you can call the police who will determine if they need to be taken to the emergency room against their will. They will forgive you down the road, so don’t be worried about them being upset that you are trying to keep them safe.

Catching and addressing mental health issues early on is key to treating it and avoiding the risk of suicide that comes from untreated mental health problems. If you want to start getting help now, feel free to contact IPC so you can schedule a consultation with one of our psychologists or psychiatrists so we can help discuss treatment options. Please call us now at 763-416-4167, or request an appointment on our website: WWW.IPC-MN.COM so we can sit down with you and complete a thorough assessment and help you develop a plan of action that will work for you. Life is too short to be unhappy. Find the peace of mind you deserve.

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