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September 22, 2023

Recognizing Warning Signs: How to Identify and Respond to Someone in Crisis with Sashalee Stewart, MD

by Sashalee Stewart, MD

Recognizing the warning signs of someone in crisis is an essential step in suicide prevention. Every year, countless lives are impacted by suicide, but with the right knowledge and support, we can intervene and provide help to those who need it the most. In this article, we will explore the signs that may indicate someone is at risk for suicide, offer guidance on how to approach and support individuals in crisis, and provide resources to initiate crucial conversations.

Identifying Warning Signs

It’s important to be aware of changes in behavior or demeanor that may indicate someone is struggling emotionally. While individuals experience a range of emotions, certain signs can signal that someone is in crisis:

Isolation: Withdrawal from social activities, friends, and family members.

Expression of Hopelessness: Frequent expressions of hopelessness, worthlessness, or feeling trapped.

Sudden Mood Swings: Extreme shifts in mood, energy levels, or overall demeanor.

Talking About Death: Frequent references to death, dying, or thoughts of suicide in conversations.

Giving Away Belongings: Expressing the desire to give away personal possessions.

Sudden Decline in Functioning: A noticeable decline in work, school, or daily life functioning.

Increasing Substance Use: Escalating use of alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism.

Loss of Interest: Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once enjoyed.

Reckless Behavior: Engaging in risky or self-destructive behaviors without concern for consequences.

Changes in Sleep Patterns: Significant changes in sleep, such as insomnia or excessive sleeping.

Approaching and Supporting Someone in Crisis

If you suspect that someone may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, it’s crucial to approach the situation with care and empathy. Here are some steps to consider:

Choose the Right Time and Place: Find a private and comfortable space to have an open conversation.

Express Concern: Approach the person calmly and express your concern for their well-being.

Listen Actively: Give the person your full attention and actively listen to what they have to say without judgment.

Ask Directly: If you feel comfortable, ask directly if they’re experiencing thoughts of suicide. This shows that you’re willing to discuss their feelings openly.

Offer Support: Let them know that you care and are there to support them. Reassure them that they’re not alone in this.

Encourage Professional Help: Suggest seeking help from a mental health professional, counselor, therapist, psychiatrist or other doctor.

Stay Connected: Keep in touch with the person and follow up on their progress. Your ongoing support is vital.

Initiating a Conversation

Starting a conversation about suicide can be challenging, but it’s a critical step in offering help. If you’re unsure how to begin, here are some phrases you can use:

“I’ve noticed that you’ve been going through a tough time lately. Can we talk about how you’re feeling?”

“You’re not alone in this. I’m here to listen and support you. Have you thought about talking to a specialist since they can provide valuable insights and help navigate any challenges you may be facing?”

“I care about you, and I’m worried about what you’re going through. Let’s find a way to get you the help you need.”

Resources for Support

If you’re unsure about how to approach someone in crisis, or if you need guidance on supporting them, numerous resources are available:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 988

Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741.

Reach out to a mental health professional or counselor with Avance Care. Call 919.748.4878.

Recognizing the warning signs of someone in crisis and knowing how to respond can make a significant difference in preventing suicide. By approaching individuals with empathy, active listening, and a willingness to help, we can provide the support they need during difficult times. Remember that your intervention can offer hope and connect them with the resources necessary for healing and recovery.

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