Teens are often more comfortable talking about suicide than their parents and other adults are. But suicide – and the way it’s portrayed in popular culture and spread by social media – is a familiar subject to young people. As Sabrina Votava, a suicide-prevention expert from Spokane, said at a 2015 forum, “Adults need to overcome any discomfort and be willing to engage teens in this conversation.”
There is no single, simple red flag for suicide, but there is a range of behavior people should be aware of, said Jill Royston, a student assistance specialist at North Central High.
“It’s less about exact signs and symptoms,” she said. “It’s more like knowing someone well enough to see they’re different, and asking what’s going on.”
Among signs of concerns: expressions of serious depression, such as moodiness, hopelessness, withdrawal from friends or mood swings; a previous suicide attempt; current talk of suicide or planning suicide; a strong wish to die or preoccupation with death; saying that “people are better off without me”; giving away prized possessions; increased alcohol or drug use.
Votava encourages the use of the acronym FACTS as a way of framing how to look for warning signs.
F – How are they Feeling?
A – How are they Acting?
C – Have they had Changes in behavior?
T – Have they made Threats?
S – What is their Situation like?
What to do
If you are worried about the possibility of suicide, trust your instincts and act, experts say. Don’t dismiss or minimize your concerns.
It’s important to show the person you care, connect with them and keep checking back with them. Show that you’re concerned, and listen to what they have to say. Emphasize that they are not alone, that you will help put the person in touch with others who can help, as well.
Don’t be hesitant to raise the subject of suicide. As the Spokane Cares resources website puts it, “Talking with young people about suicide won’t put the idea in their heads. Chances are, if you’ve observed any of the warning signs, they’re already thinking about it. Be direct in a caring, non-confrontational way. Get the conversation started.”
Restrict access to means and methods. People tend to believe that a suicidal person will find a way to kill themselves no matter what. Research shows that’s not true – that preventing access to firearms, for example, reduces suicide overall. Suicidal urges can be impulsive and short-lived – preventing an attempt may allow the person to rethink it or get help. Experts say to think about blocking access to roofs and high places, potent medicines and any other potential means.
Call for help. If someone says they’re planning to hurt themselves, contact police, friends, therapists, school officials and any other resource you can find. If someone says they have an immediate plan, or has access to a gun or other means of committing suicide, don’t leave them alone.
Some places to turn
Frontier Behavioral Health’s First Call for Help Line – (509) 838-4428
Spokane Regional Health District – (509) 324-1596
National HOPE Line – 1-800-SUICIDE
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
The Crisis Text Line – Text “HOME” to 741741 to be connected to a crisis counselor
Resources for more information
The SMILE Foundation - http://www.smilelifework.org/
The Spokane Cares page on youth suicide - http://spokanecares.org/youth-suicide-prevention.php
The Spokane Regional Health District - https://srhd.org/health-topics/injury-violence-safety/suicide-prevention
The Trevor Project, which focuses on prevention for LGBTQ youth - https://www.thetrevorproject.org/#sm.0001nu17in1hscq2xmn1gs74mwbhp