It is crucial for all of us to understand that we take suicide threats and attempts seriously. Any recent significant life event which has been unbearably painful (personal or professional) could also lead to some intolerable mental anguish.
It is also important to understand that most individuals in a suicidal crisis will give some kind of warning to those around them. There are many common risk factors like any previous attempts, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, a disruptive and unsupportive family background, statements revealing or suggesting a desire to die, giving away personal belongings, relationship conflicts, social and cultural factors, poor coping skills, any medical/psychiatric illnesses, purchasing a gun or stockpiling pills to commit suicide, and any other risk factors.
Many first responders amongst us are not specifically trained in the area of mental illness and are unaware of the common warning signs of suicide and do not know the appropriate action to take when they encounter someone who is exhibiting suicidal behavior. Attempt to suicide may result fatal if not handled properly. First responders, with some appropriate knowledge can save lives in suicidal situations and you need to be cautious of your interactions with family and friends of a suicidal individual and convey empathy and provide support. You may be faced with the task of asking sensitive questions in order to obtain more information on the situation.
Although no one can predict suicide for any one individual, but we can prevent a suicide attempt if someone reveals their plans and we can intervene quickly and effectively. Talking about suicide provides the opportunity for communication. Fears shared are more likely to diminish. Encouraging the person with thoughts of suicide to live comes from talking about those feelings. A simple inquiry about whether or not the person is intending to end their life can start the conversation. This is where the QPR method is useful and you don’t have to be a mental health professional to use it as you can intervene to possibly prevent a suicide. The QPR is designed to train anyone how to offer hope and take action when they are concerned that someone may be at risk for suicide. Q = Question Ask them directly “Are you thinking about suicide or wanting to kill yourself?” Don’t be afraid to ask the question. This does NOT drive them toward that action. That’s a myth that’s not accurate. P = Persuade. Persuade the person to allow you to assist them in getting help right now. Say “Will you go with me to get help?” or “Will you let me assist you to get help?” R = Refer Refer the person to an appropriate mental health resource for assistance. It’s ideal if you can personally escort them to see a mental health care professional.
When you are the first responder you must be aware of the danger of releasing information that may be used to glamorize or criticize a victim. Creating awareness and talking with colleagues about the importance of suicide prevention education is important along with building the capacity of workplaces to engage in suicide prevention.