Suicide Prevention: Know the Warning Signs; Know Where to Access Care

posted by Mark Hepworth on Thursday, September 22, 2022

National Suicide Prevention Week was recognized earlier this month and in considering ways to help prevent suicide, I’d like to provide some education regarding the concept of suicidal ideation, more commonly known as suicidal thoughts.

Before I became a psychiatric nurse practitioner, I worked as a psychiatric nurse in the three different inpatient behavioral health units in a large hospitals. The following true story occurrence of a tragic suicide by a 17-year-old male who lived in a nearby small town. He was popular with his peers, an excellent student and an accomplished athlete who had reached his senior year appearing to have an inevitably successful future laid out for himself. He had his choice of colleges and universities vying for his admission to their institutions.

Then, he ended his life.

Unfortunately, loved ones were left with many questions but few answers.

Suicide does not discriminate by age, gender, race or wealth.

Ending one’s life is a decision that can be reached impulsively or with a great deal of planning. As much as grieving loved ones may question what they missed, there are not always warning signs. Yet, many times there are; and those indicators are what I’d like to share so that other families might be prevented from experiencing such heartache.

Contextual clues to suicidal risk can be obtained by assessing for both risk factors and protective factors in a patient’s life.

Modifiable risk factors include:

  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Bullying
  • Loss of relationships/jobs/financial stability
  • Uncontrolled anxiety
  • Feelings of guilt, hopelessness, or being a burden
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Substance abuse
  • Stigma related to mental illness and seeking mental health care

Chronic Risk Factors include:

  • History of severe depression or other chronic mental illness.
  • Male gender
  • Age greater than 45 years
  • History of violent behavior
  • Previous suicide attempts

Protective factors which can lessen the likelihood of a negative event include family support/presence of children, community membership, effective coping skills, employment, good health, and feelings of optimism.

Just as a heart attack is a medical emergency for the heart that requires support and treatment, suicidal thoughts are an emergency for the brain that requires support and treatment.

If someone you or someone else is exhibiting warning signs – such as a change in mood, withdrawal from activities and socialization, or increased high-risk behaviors – have a conversation. Encourage or arrange for you or your loved one to meet with a health professional. Trust your instincts. If you have concerns, don’t hesitate to seek help.

In case of an emergency, don’t hesitate to call 911 or go to the emergency department. For non-emergent situations, call to schedule an appointment with our Spencer Hospital outpatient psychiatry services. Outpatient services are provided through Avera Medical Group Spencer and to schedule, call (712) 264-3515.

Nationally, a three-digit suicide and crisis line has been created and was activated earlier this year. By calling or texting 988, people can connect with mental health professionals associated with the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Again, don’t hesitate to seek help. One call can save a life.  

About The Author

Mark Hepworth

Mark Hepworth is a board certified psychiatric nurse practitioner who earned a bachelor's degree in biology from Illinois College and his bachelor's and mater's degrees in nursing from Allen College. He worked for many years in healthcare-related and technical sales and owned a person ... read more