September 5 to 11 is National Suicide Prevention Week. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Though mental health has entered the mainstream conversation in a big way over the past few years, it is still a difficult topic in our community. Regardless, suicide is a tough topic for anyone.
It is important that we have a conversation around suicide and suicide prevention. Research on suicide in the South Asian community is limited; most research looks at Asian Americans in general. However, studies that have been conducted point to stigma of mental health as a risk factor.
South Asian students are less likely than their peers to utilize mental health resources. We have discussed stigma and its adverse effects on mental health before. Click here to read that post. To put it more frankly, ignoring mental health, asserting that it’s a personal failing, or simply not taking it seriously does harm.
In this post, we are going to discuss signs and risk factors of suicidal ideation, and ways to intervene. We know suicide is a difficult topic no matter who you are. Nonetheless, it is our goal to prevent suicide in our community and educate about the realities of it.
Risk Factors and Warning Signs of Suicide
There are many risk factors for suicide, and some are not always expected. It’s important to remember that the presence of any one or combination of these is not a guarantee that someone is suicidal. Furthermore, someone who is suicidal might not be giving explicit indications. That is why knowledge of risk factors and warning signs is critical for suicide prevention.
Common risk factors include:
Mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and conduct disorder.
Substance use problems.
Serious health conditions including chronic pain.
Traumatic brain injury.
Access to lethal means such as guns and drugs.
Prolonged stress, such as bullying, financial distress, relationship difficulty, or unemployment.
Exposure to another’s suicide or to sensationalized or romanticized depictions of suicide.
Previous suicide attempts.
Family history of suicide.
Childhood abuse, neglect, or trauma.
Warning Signs of Suicide
Someone who is suicidal may not voice their suicidal feelings. It takes a great deal of bravery to tell someone about feeling suicidal. However, someone who is feeling suicidal or actively planning their suicide may demonstrate some indicating behaviors that, if noticed, should not be ignored.
Such behaviors can include:
Talking about killing themselves.
Feeling hopeless, trapped, or like they have no reason to live.
Feeling like they have no reason to live or that they don’t want the life they are living.
Talking about unbearable pain or distress.
Furthermore, there are some behaviors that we should all be aware of that are often precursors to suicide attempts, or at least indicate ideation.
Increased use of alcohol or drugs.
Withdrawing from activities or social life.
Isolating from friends or family.
Sleeping too much or too little.
Aggression or fatigue.
Calling people to say goodbye.
Suddenly giving away prized possessions.
All of these behaviors should be taken seriously. The presence of one may not be an indication. It’s important to note if such behaviors are normal or a sudden change for someone. Lastly, there are changes in mood that act as warning signs, such as :
Loss of interest.
Shame, guilt, or humiliation.
Agitation or anger.
Relief or a sudden improvement.
The final point is an often overlooked or misinterpreted sign. Someone who has been in distress or experiencing a difficult or traumatic event doesn’t normally have a sudden improvement. To friends or family, it can be easy to see that sudden relief as them “getting over it.” However, it is more likely an indication that they have made a decision to take their own life and are feeling “at peace.”
There are conditions that make someone less likely to commit suicide, called protective factors. A tragedy of suicide is that many protective factors are not difficult to achieve. They are certainly easier for some to access than others, but none are impossible.
Additionally, it needs to be understood that an almost community-wide stigma of mental health discussion renders these protective factors much more inaccessible for South Asians. As stated before, South Asian students are much less likely to utilize mental health resources than White peers. Click here to read the study that supports this.
Common protective factors include:
Access to mental health care, and being proactive about mental health.
Feeling connected to family and community support.