How can you tell if someone is serious about suicide?

Written by  //  August 18, 2011  //  Feature Stories, News

Know the signs, symptoms and risk factors

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. (Aug. 18, 2011) — Not all suicides are preventable, but in many cases people who commit suicide tell someone about their plans or show warning signs before they go through with it. Knowing how to spot these warning signs and some of the factors that put someone at a higher risk of committing suicide may help to save the life of a friend or family member.

Michael McFarland, the Director of Psychological Health for the Florida National Guard, says that while there are specific lists of signs and symptoms to look for, a general feeling that something isn’t right is usually a good sign that it’s not.

“That gut reaction we’re telling ourselves, there’s just not something right about my buddy that just doesn’t seem in character with them,” said McFarland. “That needs to be taken note of.”

It’s important that Guardsmen not only recognize the warning signs, but also have the courage to act when they know a friend or family member may be in danger.

“One of the ways that we know people reach out for help is that they simply indicate ‘Hey, I’m having thoughts about suicide’ or really talk about taking their life,” said McFarland. “They’re looking to see if people are really going to respond.

“If we don’t take that seriously,” McFarland continued. “Then what we’ve just told that person is ‘I really don’t care.’ And if you’re on the receiving end of that and are really in that place of having lost hope, to know that that person across from you really doesn’t care enough to do something may be the final straw.”

How can you tell if a person is serious about committing suicide? According to McFarland, you simply can’t. But something as important as a life shouldn’t be left to chance. He recommends a serious, across the board approach to anyone who exhibits warning signs or expresses an intent to commit suicide.

“We never really know whether the person is serious or how serious it is,” said McFarland. “So if we across the board let people know that when those words come out of anybody’s mouth, things are going to happen – we’re going to take it seriously, we’re going to act, we’re going to be supportive. We may take the risk that maybe we overreacted sometimes, but this is about saving the lives of Soldiers.”

There are several factors and situations in life that may put a person at greater risk of suicide. In one study, across the Department of Defense 68 percent of people who had committed suicide had recently experienced a failed relationship. Suicides are typically preceded by a conflict in a marital, romantic or family relationship.

Unemployment is a growing problem and a great cause of distress to those affected by it. Stress on the job or an unsupportive work environment can be just as detrimental to a Guardsman who is already under stress. A recent study showed that those people who don’t have good support from their employers when they return from a deployment are more prone to express symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“The support that employers provide when a Guard member returns from a deployment can speak volumes about their ability to return to a good readjustment into civilian life,” said McFarland.

Substance abuse also contributes greatly to the risk that someone will commit suicide. According to an analysis of Army suicides between 2003 and 2009, 30 percent of suicides and 45 percent of suicide attempts involved drug or alcohol abuse.

“Accelerated abuse of drugs and alcohol is a signal that someone is beginning to spiral downward,” said McFarland. “Not only that, a person who is under the influence of drugs and alcohol has impaired thinking. So when they begin to have those thoughts about suicide, they’re not in nearly as good a place to combat those thoughts because they’ve already been compromised by substances.”

A person’s outlook in life can say a lot about their level of risk for suicide. Maj. Jeffrey Peppers, the full-time support chaplain for the Florida National Guard, looks at several things when he is speaking to Soldiers and Airmen to determine whether they are just having some temporary troubles in their lives or their problems might be something more.

“I want to look at the amount of distress that somebody is in,” said Peppers. “And I want to look at the degree of hope that this person has in the future. If everything is oriented to the past and they can’t get past what’s going on right now, I’m concerned.”

Many stressors, conditions and behaviors can be contributing factors that can lead to suicide. Recognizing these changes and conditions in fellow Guardsmen and family members, taking them seriously and taking action when necessary can help to prevent a tragedy from occurring.

For immediate assistance, Guardsmen can contact the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or Military OneSource at 1-800-342-9647. In Florida, Guardsmen and family members can contact Michael McFarland, the Director of Psychological Health, at (904)823-0308.