Someone once said that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, but that minimizes the depression, sorrow, loneliness and mental health issues that shape the landscape of suicide in this country. According to the Surgeon General, there are over 50 percent more suicides in the United States every year than homicides, and suicide is the ninth leading cause of death. So it's good to know exactly what to do if you hear a person threatening to kill himself.
Calling 911 for Emergency Help
If someone makes a real and immediate threat of suicide, it is a real and imminent emergency. This is true whether the threat happens in your living room or on the internet. You may hesitate, wondering if the threat is serious or just a cry for help. However, you simply can't tell, so you must respond decisively to prevent a tragic outcome. Unless you know a local suicide helpline to call, dial 911 immediately to report a suicide threat.
Emergency personnel will come to the home of the person threatening suicide, or to your home if the person is there, and speak with him. If they believe the person to be at risk for suicide, they will take the person in and hold him in a supervised mental health facility for 48 hours for observation. At the end of that time, the mental health professionals will decide if the person is to be released.
Suicide Risk Factors
Sometimes you know that a friend is depressed and worry about whether suicide is a possibility. It is especially hard to report your fears and suspicions if the person does not confide in you about suicidal thoughts and intentions. In deciding what to do, it helps to keep these suicide risk factors in mind.
People are more at risk for a suicide attempt if they made previous suicide attempts, especially when they do not have access to mental health treatment or refuse to get help because of the social stigma. A family history of suicide is also relevant. Mood disorders like depression, bipolar disorder or borderline disorder also contribute to a higher risk for suicide, as well as addiction disorders like alcoholism or substance abuse.
You may see certain attitudes that put a person at higher risk, including a sense of hopelessness, a feeling of being cut off from others, and impulsive or aggressive tendencies. Likewise, a painful loss, like the loss of a relationship, the death of a loved one or the loss of a job can make someone more vulnerable. Physical illness and being in pain can also contribute to the risk.
Another thing to consider is whether a person has easy access to guns, knives or other ways of harming themselves. Even access to a vehicle like a motorcycle or car can be enough.
If someone you know tells you that she is thinking of killing herself, call 911 and report the threat so that emergency personnel can step in and help.
- If the suicide threat occurs online, contact the Internet site's moderators, your local police department and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255). Provide as much identifying information about the suicidal person as possible, including her full name and address if you can.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.