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How to Help a Suicidal Friend

Updated on October 3, 2012
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According to The World Health Organization, over one million people globally commit suicide every year, and 10-20 million attempt unsuccessful suicide attempts. People who are suicidal don’t usually talk about it, but they do communicate in ways that may indicate they are considering suicide. Helping a friend or loved one in a time of this crisis can only begin with learning the signs and symptoms of someone in danger of committing suicide.

What is Depression?

The brain produces three main neurotransmitters that influence mood and a "sense of well-being." When these chemicals are low, due to many factors, the person will exhibit depression. Extremely low neurotransmitters in the brain can create a very suicidal person that "feels" as though they are in agony. Psychological pain is very real pain and should not be dismissed as "it's all in your head."

Low neurotransmitter production may run in families, be caused by alcohol or drug abuse, may be a side effect of a new medication, or can be induced by a history of childhood abuse or trauma. Although the brain is not fully understood, science has found serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine important components to depression. These neurotransmitters are vital to a healthy mind that is free from mood disorders. The role of these chemicals and the symptoms of low levels may be:


Neurotransmitters of Depression

Neurotransmitter
Role in a Healthy Mind
Low Level Signs and Symptoms
Serotonin
A sensation of well-being, feels loved and safe, feels worthy of love and useful
Irritable, hopeless and helpless, anxiety and impending doom, suicidal ideations
Norepinephrine
Mood stabilizer, keeps you on an even keel, contributes to serotonin
Overeating, mood swings, irritability and "crying spells" or anger behaviors
Dopamine
Sexual excitement, the "Rush" of winning at something, sense of purpose and "Love"
Risky behaviors, poor impulse control, poor judgment, anger and rage, drug seeking behavoir
All Low Levels of these Neurotransmitters Induce Depression

National Suicide Hotlines

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

LifeLine 1-800-273-TALK

National Hopeline Network

1-800-SUICIDE

High Risk Depression

People who have severe depression may be at risk for suicide. A person who suffers major depression may be to fatigued or lethargic to actually carry out suicide, but they usually have suicidal ideations (thoughts of suicide) that may push them into devising a plan. As they become less depressed, they may seem happier and exert more energy. This is a dangerous time for sufferers, because they now have the ability to put the plan into action. Signs and Symptoms of suicidal thoughts are:

  • Giving personal possessions away and telling everyone how much they love them.
  • Frequently talking about death or end of life situations. Wishing they “were never born” or “I’d be better off dead.”
  • Exhibits hopelessness and helplessness. “Life has no meaning,” or “there is no way out of this horrible life.”
  • Getting their affairs in order. Writing letters to old friends and family, or writing out a will.
  • Increased substance abuse, spending sprees or engaging in unsafe sex.
  • Self hatred behaviors and thoughts express as, “I wish I were dead,” or “everyone would be better off if I were gone.”
  • Violent behaviors with erratic mood swings, bouts of anger and rage, threatening
  • Loss of interest in the activities and things they used to find joy in doing
  • Rapid weight gain or loss, insomnia and complaint of fatigue after rest

Does the Suicidal Person Have a Plan?

If the person has a plan to commit suicide, this is a warning sign that they may be serious about executing a suicide attempt. The question is do they have the "means" to carry out the plan. If their plan is vague, and state they "will not commit suicide," the risks are low. If the person states they plan to shoot themselves in the head, but they do not own a gun, and they state they will not commit suicide, they are at a low risk. This person should be strongly encouraged to get help. A concerned person should be proactive and get others involved to get the suicidal person to psychiatric treatment and placed on medication for depression.

If the person has attempted suicide in the past, call 911 and get help.

On the other hand, if the person states they have a plan to shoot themselves, they own a gun in the home, and state they will commit suicide, calling 911 is necessary. Do not leave them alone until help arrives.


If You Feel Suicide is Imminent: Call 911

Level of Risk
Signs and Symptoms
Actions by You
Low
Suicidal ideations with no plan to commit suicide
Suggest professional help and may need medication
Moderate
A plan without details, "I won't commit suicide"
May need medical intrevention, call suicide hotline for instructions
High
A plan that is detailed and has the means to accomplish it, "I won't commit suicide
Call their psychiatrist or crisis center, do not leave them alone
Warning: Severe
Has a specific plan, the means to accomplish it, "I will commit suicide."
Call 911 or bring person to a treatment center, do not leave alone!
Levels of Suicide Risk

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    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

      Knowing the signs of suicide is so important as sometimes their intentions may not be that obvious. This is a very useful and well-written hub. I think it will help increase awareness.

    • eHealer profile image
      Author

      Deborah 4 years ago from Las Vegas

      Thanks Pamela, I hope it does help as many people as possible. Witnessing the decline of a person you love takes courage and knowledge. There are no easy answers in a situation like this one, but you can follow a protocol and do the very best you can. Thank you for reading and I really appreciate your comments.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Been there... Thank you for sharing,

    • eHealer profile image
      Author

      Deborah 4 years ago from Las Vegas

      Hello, Mhatter, you are welcome, and thank you for sharing.

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 4 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Very useful and well explained, Deborah. It is important to understand what to do when. Thanks for sharing.

      Voted up, useful and shared.

    • eHealer profile image
      Author

      Deborah 4 years ago from Las Vegas

      Thanks Rajan, so many people have asked me this question in my career over the years and thought it may be useful to some people who unfortunately have had to have a loved one or friend become suicidal.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      This is a really good hub and very useful and important. Voted up!

    • eHealer profile image
      Author

      Deborah 4 years ago from Las Vegas

      Thanks Glimmer, I enjoy your hubs as well. Let's keep this thing going~

    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 4 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      wow ehealer.. this is such great information!! this is such a sad and scary subject. there are so many people young and old that is chronic depressed. and so prong to suicide.. thank you for writing this great hub. I will share

      hope everyone reads it

      debbie

    • profile image

      lovedoctor926 4 years ago

      This is an excellent article to raise awareness. Depression is an illness that should be taken seriously. There are a lot of people with mental health issues that don't seek adequate help. I think one of the best ways to help a family member or close friend is to be there for them. Be patient, compassionate, hear them out and try to understand them. Some people are very stubborn and push others away when they are suffering inside, but one of the best ways you can help someone who is suicidal is by making an appointment with a specialist right away. Let them know that they are lovable and worthy people.

    • eHealer profile image
      Author

      Deborah 4 years ago from Las Vegas

      Thank you Deborah. I really appreciate your support. So many people have been faced with a friend or loved one that is suicidal, and they did not know what to do about it. I hope this helps people, I really do.

    • eHealer profile image
      Author

      Deborah 4 years ago from Las Vegas

      right on LoveDoctor, you got it right. Unfortunately, to many people have wished they had followed your advice, but only after it's too late. It's not a "all in your head" disorder, it's potentially fatal. Thanks for your support!

    • nanderson500 profile image

      nanderson500 4 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Great article on suicide prevention. It's interesting how those three chemicals can have such a profound effect on our brains. Voted up and interesting.

    • eHealer profile image
      Author

      Deborah 4 years ago from Las Vegas

      hello nanderson, yes, we are essentially chemicals. I know it makes things seem dull, but chemicals rule! thanks for your support.

    • profile image

      lovedoctor926 4 years ago

      your welcome. will follow your work

    • b. Malin profile image

      b. Malin 4 years ago

      A Timely Hub, eHealer, and sad to say, especially for this time of year. My Niece, a very Talented Artist, who was Bi-polar, took her own life 8 years ago this Dec. It was so Heartbreaking for all of us, but especially my dear Sister. Had she tried before yes...unsuccessfully, but this time, she succeeded.

      On a lighter note, I look forward to Following your Hubs.

    • eHealer profile image
      Author

      Deborah 4 years ago from Las Vegas

      I am so sorry to here about your neice, we need to do all we can to help our loved ones, but it isn't always enough. Some people fall through the cracks, but, you did the best you could. Thank you for sharing your personal experiences, and I look forward to speaking with you further. Thank you and it is so nice to meet you.

    • Rolly A Chabot profile image

      Rolly A Chabot 4 years ago from Alberta Canada

      Hi eHealer... timely hub at anytime but especially considering the resent suicide here in Canada which has gotten the attention of many. Over the years I have known several whom have reached the end. We have all spoken the words "If I had only known."

      Society is becoming more aware of the warning signs and this is an exceptional piece of work and I thank you for writing it.

      Hugs from Canada

    • eHealer profile image
      Author

      Deborah 4 years ago from Las Vegas

      Thanks Rolly, and stay well. People don't always tell us what they are thinking, it isn't our fault, we do the best we can. Hugs from Las Vegas, Nevada.

    • Fiddleman profile image

      Robert Elias Ballard 4 years ago from Zirconia, North Carolina

      Great article. Suicide is on the rise and so many are depressed. Thanks for sharing these valuable insights.

    • Rfordin profile image

      Rfordin 4 years ago from Florida

      Cool info here I'mma link this hub to the FDA one I just published...seems you have lots of resources and good info here to share.

      ~Becky

    • eHealer profile image
      Author

      Deborah 4 years ago from Las Vegas

      Hi Rfordin, excellent Idea, do you want me to link to yours? I think it would be a great way to get all the info out to the people looking for answers to a complex problem. Thanks!

    • eHealer profile image
      Author

      Deborah 4 years ago from Las Vegas

      Hey Fiddleman, thanks for your support. I appreciate your comments and see you soon at the hubs!

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 4 years ago from sunny Florida

      Thank you so much for sharing this crucial information. It could be life saving someday. Depression comes in and fills a life with darkness and the world is a frightening, lonely place. No matter how much others try to fill the void that depression causes if one is clinically depressed professional help is needed.

      When my daughter was in middle school, I taught at the same school she attended. One day she came to me during class and said she had to talk to me right then. I had a huge class of students because my classroom was the auditorium since our building was overcrowded. But fortunately I taught reading so I asked them to read for a bit. I knew she would not be there if it was not urgent. She said Mom, Meg not her real name told me she is going to kill herself. And she went on to say that Meg had begged her not to tell anyone. I knew this young girl well and had noticed she was a bit down recently but her parent's were divorcing, it was ugly, and I attributed it to that. But my daughter said "No, Mom. I am scared. I think she really plans to do it soon. " So I went to the counselor who was so very apt at meeting the needs of the middle school age child and I told her what my daughter had shared. And she went and found her and talked with her. The child ended up needing in patient treatment for a period of time. I really do not remember how long now. But when she was better and could return to school, she came to me and thanked me for 'butting in.' She said she had planned to go home that day and end her life. Today she is a mother and a wife and has a life. Bottom line ...she has a life. Again thank you for sharing this.

    • eHealer profile image
      Author

      Deborah 4 years ago from Las Vegas

      PS, you saved a life that day and got her the help she needed. Divorce is devastating to kids and can cause a post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and create profound depression. Great job, you took the threat seriously and she received treatment and help. Thanks for sharing such a great example of "butting in," and thanks for butting in.

    • profile image

      Sammy 4 years ago

      My mom and dad and my brothers and sisters all 10 of them died by the 2004 Tsunami when i was 11 years old

    • eHealer profile image
      Author

      Deborah 4 years ago from Las Vegas

      I am so sorry Sammy, perhaps you should seek counseling or talk to someone you really trust that can help you. You are still here, and your family would want you to be happy and live a wonderful life.

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