Helping a friend or loved one who might be suicidal

Photo credit: MGN Online

The numbers are alarming: More Americans now die from suicide than car accidents or opioid overdoses.

The tragic deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have restarted the nationwide conversation about suicide prevention.

Dr. Anna Ratzliff, a psychiatrist with UW Medicine, says even if someone isn't talking about wanting to die, there are typically warning signs, such as a change in behavior, that may indicate that person is struggling with suicidal thoughts.

"You might see [that] people who are acting really different, so a change in behavior,” Dr, Ratzliff said. “For example, acting anxious or agitated when they tend to be a calm person or withdrawing from family or friends. Some of the most concerning warning signs would be giving away important possessions, saying goodbye to friends or family, or extreme mood swings."

Should you say something if you notice one of these warning signs? Yes. Dr. Ratzliff says it's OK to ask someone if they're thinking about dying or killing themselves.

"It’s not an easy question to actually ask someone, but studies show that an at-risk individual will be no more likely to harm themselves – it won't increase their risk for suicide. In fact, it might be a lifeline that helps prevent a suicide,” she said.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline has been flooded with calls since the death of Kate Spade.

Trained counselors are there 24/7 for anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts. They can also help family and friends who need advice on what to do.

They can connect you to additional resources and suggests steps to take, if you're worried about someone at risk for suicide.

“Dr. Ratzliff says it’s “a really important call” – whether you do it yourself or help someone place the call.

“Sometimes, someone just needs that extra support to make that first call, to put those numbers into the phone and call,” she explained. “When people are feeling that level of despair that often comes with being at risk for suicide, its sometimes hard to have the energy to do something for yourself, like make a call to the suicide prevention hotline."

If you need help, or if you're worried about a friend or loved one, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Someone is there for you 24 hours a day.

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