By: Daniel Surges

At Transitions, we feel that each patient is unique. However, there may be some commonalities amongst each individual when it comes to their mental health. In honor of September being National Suicide Prevention Month, we wanted to share warning signs and strategies to support patients who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts. 

While warning signs may not be noticeable at first, always remember that it is never too late to take action. According the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide warning signs include, but are not limited to:

  • Feeling like a burden
  • Being isolated
  • Increased anxiety
  • Feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Increased substance use
  • Looking for a way to access lethal means
  • Increased anger or rage
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Expressing hopelessness
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Talking or posting about wanting to die
  • Making plans for suicide

The warning signs just mentioned are the most common, and, while you can’t be with your patient all the time, conveying this information to the patient’s family is one more thing you can do to provide support and prevent suicides. Your patient is going through a big transition in their life, and it is important to provide care and consideration for them. When interacting with your patient, consider the following suggestions from the CDC on how you can provide support: 

  • Create Protective environments
    • Reduce acess to the lethal means among persons at risk for suicide
    • Develop organizational policies and foster a positive environment
    • Have community based policies to reduce excessive alcohol use
  • Promote Connectedness
    • Encourage families to spend time with their loved one before they pass
    • Be there to listen to your patient
    • Offer Facetime or Skype privileges to the patient if their family isn’t in the area
  • Teach coping and problem-solving skills
    • If an individual is in distress the 5.4.3.2.1 method may work. Ask the patient what are 5 things they can see, 4 things they can hear, 3 things they can touch, 2 things they can taste, one thing they can smell 
    • A technique for regulating an individual’s emotions is 4 square breathing; breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breath out for 4 seconds, and repeat 4 times
    • If an individual is feeling stuck, ask them to visualize a stream and leaves flowing down its path. Then, prompt them to imagine the leaf as a specific problem, and have them visualize it floating down the stream until it’s gone

These signs and preventive measures are very important. However, there are other signs to be aware of that may affect aging populations. According to America’s Health Rankings, many elderly individuals use a passive type of self harm in which they restrict food intake, water intake, or refuse to take their medications. These instances are rarely recorded as death by suicide; however, they should be adressed. In reality, it’s up to you to interpret if these behaviors will be harmful to your patient. Adults 65+ are drastically more likely to use a lethal strategy when attempting suicide. For every 100,000 individuals, 15.46 have a successful suicide attempt. For individuals ages 75-84, 18.64 have successful attempts, and the highest out of all age groups is 85+ with 20.12 successful suicide attempts.

As you provide care to your patients, remember your role in preventing suicides. Beware of the warning signs and support your patients beyond physical care, treating the whole person – including mental and emotional health.