This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
The topic of suicide is a difficult one to discuss no matter with whom or what time of year the chat might take place.
But knowing the warning signs that someone you love may be having suicidal thoughts could potentially help save a life.
In interviews with Fox News Digital, Amy Morin, a Florida-based licensed psychotherapist, as well as M. David Rudd, University of Memphis distinguished professor of psychology, shared key insights about potential suicide warning signs.
The Atlanta-based Lorenzo Louis, a mental health advocate and speaker, also weighed in.
Morin said it’s important to start a conversation a very difficult topic, especially when red flags often go unrecognized.
“As a society, it’s something we should be discussing because we know that suicide rates are really high,” said Morin, who’s also editor of Verywell Mind.
“And talking about it with people doesn’t increase the chances that they’ll actually follow through with suicide but, instead, it might prevent some unnecessary deaths.”
In the unfortunate and tragic instance in which someone does go through with suicide, Morin sought to remind the person’s loved ones that they are not responsible.
“It’s definitely not your fault that somebody was in pain, and they found that this was the way to deal with their pain,” she said.
“If you didn’t see the signs, it’s definitely not your fault,” she added.
It’s also important for caretakers to get themselves help, too, by seeking out therapy or working on other ways to handle stress, Morin said.
“If you have a loved one that you are concerned might complete suicide, that’s really scary,” she said.
“It might be hard for you to sleep, you might find that you have trouble concentrating at work — and it might really start to affect your life.”
A basic sign of suicidal thoughts, according to former University of Memphis president Rudd, is an acknowledgment of feeling isolated, lonely or upset.
This also includes a person’s explicit comments about suicide or mentions of not wanting to be alive, feeling hopeless and being in “unbearable pain.”
“Another warning sign can be when somebody says that they’re a burden,” Morin said.
“Individuals who say, ‘I don’t want you to have to take care of me,’ are more likely to follow through with completing suicide,” said Morin.
Rudd added that another sign is difficulty sleeping.
“When people aren’t sleeping well, nothing goes well,” he said.
He added, “When you see sharp changes in mood and reactivity, when people start to fly off the handle and have difficulty — those are all signals that you ought to talk with somebody about how they’re doing.”
Said Lorenzo Lewis to Fox News Digital on these topics, “A few warning signs that someone may be struggling with mental health include being withdrawn, being agitated, having a hard time staying focused, suffering from a lack of sleep, and [having] sudden relationships challenges.”
He started the Confess Project of America to support local chapters that train barbers and stylists to become mental health advocates for people in their community.
Lewis also commented on how “disheartening” it is to him — especially right after the tragic loss of Stephen “tWitch” Boss — “that Black men and boys have been the most ignored regarding mental health,” said Lewis.
He added that the passing of “tWitch” shows “just how badly Black men need to feel loved, seen and most of all validated.”
Also, alcohol and substance abuse could be signs that a person is attempting to self-medicate, Rudd said — and could be a sign of struggle.
Morin, for her part, reiterated that when a person acts recklessly, such as driving at high speeds or drinking and driving, this could be a sign of suicidal thoughts, as well as being more withdrawn.
There’s no doubt it can be difficult to pick up on some of these signs, especially when some people get “really good” at masking the pain they’re feeling, Morin said.
“The truth is, the person probably really wanted to protect everybody else from seeing anything, any warning signs,” she said.
“And so, they get really good at making sure that they act as though they’re fine … because they didn’t want anybody to stop them.”
Rudd mentioned that especially during the holidays, people who are struggling with mental health can feel a sense of isolation.
This could drum up suicidal thoughts for those who lack family connections.
“People who have few relationships, strained relationships, detachment from family, detachment from friends — it’s the period where they’re most vulnerable,” he said.
“When they look around and see everybody else connected to family … it really magnifies and amplifies what they don’t have.”
Experts agree that the best way to confront someone who may be showing concerning behavior is to talk it out.
Rudd brought up the “significant” stigma around mental health issues in which discussions of suicide need to be kept quiet or hushed — but simply asking someone how they’re doing can be a crucial first step toward helping that person.
He debunked the myth that talking with a person of concern can make the situation worse, stressing that no harm can come from starting a conversation.
“Talking with somebody, expressing care and concern always helps,” he said. “Point out your concerns and tell them what you’re noticing.”
Research shows that having a conversation can reduce the risk of suicide, Morin said.
“It’s OK to say, ‘I’m really concerned that you might be high risk … I’d like to talk about it.'” She said it’s wise to share with the person ways to “get help.”
Follow-up steps could include making an appointment to speak with a mental health professional, taking an immediate trip to the emergency room or phoning the suicide crisis hotline, 988.
Morin said that more than anything, it’s important to give the person a non-judgmental space to speak freely.
“When we offer our advice like, ‘You should just get better sleep,’ or, ‘Have you thought of more exercise?’ people are often really frustrated to hear those tidbits because you may have tried everything,” she said.
“So, it’s super important to listen to somebody and try to understand where they’re coming from, what they’re feeling.”
“You don’t necessarily have to agree with it, and you don’t have to understand it, but you can still be a good listener.”
Morin recommended putting a safety plan in place, which could involve calling 911 or 988, or someone else in a time of crisis.
“And if somebody says, ‘I don’t need any help, I’m fine,’ you can ask them, ‘Well, how would you know if you needed help?’” she said. “What would be the warning signs that would tell you, I don’t have this handled?”
In 2020, suicide was the 12th leading cause of death in the U.S.; nearly 46,000 lost their lives this way, according to the CDC.
Recent CDC data also shows that there were more suicides across all months in 2021 than there were in 2020.
But ever since the suicide hotline switched over to easy-to-remember number 988 in July 2022, there has been a significant increase in outreach to that line.
In September, the HHS announced a 45% increase in calls compared to the year prior.
Data collected by the CDC in 2020 revealed that a majority of suicide deaths are accomplished via a firearm.
But Rudd mentioned that the safe storage of firearms has been proven to save lives in this case.
A study by the NIH concluded that those who stored their guns locked and unloaded were less likely to commit suicide, compared to people who stored their firearms unlocked or loaded.
“Simply putting a trigger lock on a weapon will save lives,” said Rudd. “Anything that slows down access to a firearm in critical moments saves lives, and it creates what we refer to as strategic inconvenience.”
“It gives people enough time to pause and to think for a few seconds, and oftentimes that’s enough for somebody to decide not to take that step.”
Rudd said that the path forward is to prioritize the conversation around mental health in the same way that physical well-being is openly discussed.
“If you had a cough, I’m sure everybody in your family will ask you about the cough,” he said. But “seldom will somebody ask you, ‘You don’t seem to be sleeping well. Do you want to talk about it?'”
He added, “Those are the kind of things that have to change in order for this problem to really move in a different direction.”
Lewis, for his part, said that we need to “help more families with better access to mental health services. I do feel that there is a huge shift for the culture to change,” he added.