By Dr. Dean Aslinia

Originally Published for the University of Phoenix (PhoenixView)

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and September is designated as Suicide Prevention Month. It is important to know that suicide is seldom an isolated incident. It is often associated with years of pain, pressure, anxiety, unhappiness, depression, unworthiness, helplessness and hopelessness.

As a higher educational institution, the University of Phoenix CACREP-accredited counseling program includes a series of rigorous courses and clinical residency experiences that teach our graduate counseling students to assess the suicidality of an individual, and to de-escalate a crisis, and to provide them the necessary psychological first aid or other appropriate services.

However, there are things that non-professionals can be aware of to help prevent suicide.

Signs and Behaviors Associated with Suicide

When it comes to suicide and suicidal ideation, the biggest factors that are typically assessed are (1) intent, (2) plan and (3) means. These three factors can help assess whether or not a person has the intention of harming or killing themselves, or if they have actually developed a plan to carry out such behavior. This includes taking the time to write letters to their friends and loved ones explaining their decisions and saying their last goodbyes, as well as gathering the tools or weapons (means) to carry out their plan.

The scenario where all three of these factors exist is deemed an active suicidal ideation and plan. When this exists, it needs to be addressed immediately. These individuals often pose an imminent threat to themselves or others.

More common cases, however, have expressions of intent and the wish for death, but they do not have time spent devising the plan or the gathering of necessary supplies or tools to carry out the act. In such cases, it is important to note the existence of a steady decline in this person’s morale, engagement, energy and interests.

If the person is increasing irritable, agitated, angry, fatigued, and/or show signs of sleep deprivation or major changes in appetite. The best approach is directness, and to inquire about their problems, asking if they have intent to harm themselves, and offer help.

Contrary to popular belief, asking these direct questions does not instill such thoughts in the person, but rather shows them that you notice their pain, and that they are not invisible. Oftentimes, such simple questions can lead to being able to find this person a counselor or the help they need to get back on the road to emotional stability.

What to Do if Someone Tells You They Are Suicidal

The biggest assistance you can provide someone who recognizes that they are suicidal is to connect them to resources that can help them.

These can include at a minimum providing then with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK. It also includes helping them find an appropriate counselor, mental health professional, or even a visit to their primary care physician. Once they report their suicidal ideation to any of these types of professionals, the roadmap to help can be achieved.

If you ever feel the person is in imminent danger and does not have the capacity to wait or reach the next step, call 911 and ask for help. Most first responders are trained to handle and help in situations involving suicidal individuals.

When a person says they are suicidal, ALWAYS believe them. It is not your responsibility to make everything better, but it is your responsibility to get them to a mental health professional.

Ask if they have a therapist, and if so, contact the therapist or better yet, stay with them until they make the call. Don’t make the conversation about you, your spiritual beliefs or moral compass. It is about the person that is suicidal. Don’t leave them alone. Stay with them until you can find someone with the credentials to help them.

What You Need to Know about Mental Health

Everyone should be aware that one in four individuals in the U.S. struggles with mental health challenges. These can be as minor as daily battles with anxiety and constant worrying, to personality disorders.

As a result, we all benefit from the recognition that mental illness is just as serious and potentially harmful as any other physical illness. An analogy is to treat the situation similarly to how you would show sympathy to a colleague who experienced a broken leg, or empathize with someone who just lost a loved-one. Someone who is experiencing depression is experiencing something similar, and needs the same sympathy and empathy. The issue is that depression and anxiety cannot be directly seen.

The key takeaway is that once we can normalize and remove the negative stigma of mental health illness, we can also directly impact and decrease suicide rates in our beloved nation.