Suicide warning signs: what to look out for and what to do

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – At 21, Mary Crutchfield didn’t know why she couldn’t get out of bed and just wanted to sleep all the time. She just knew she didn’t want to feel like this anymore.

“It wasn’t sadness, it wasn’t me crying, it wasn’t me who got emotional, but I had a lot of suicidal thoughts and I was tired,” she said.

Now a psychiatric nurse, Crutchfield credits another nurse with saving her life.

“She leaned over and put her hands on my knees and said, ‘I want you to look me in the eye and I want you to know that this is called depression and it’s treatable.’”

The number of suicides in the US has skyrocketed over the past two years. O CDC Reports 48,183 people took their own lives in 2021, a 5% increase from the previous year. In 2022, 49,449 died by suicide, an increase of 2.6%.

Dr. David Spiegel, President of the Department of Psychiatry at EVMS said the pandemic is a possible reason for the rise in suicides.

“I think the pandemic has done one of two things. On the one hand, it isolated us from other people, but at the same time, we spend even more time with our families and now we don’t have the same level of support,” he said.

Experts explain, it’s similar to what happens on vacation. Suicide rates tend to rise right after Christmas, when family and friends leave and we go back to life alone.

Social isolation is the reason why older people, in general, are at greater risk of suicide.

Spiegel said: “You’re losing family, you’re losing friends, you’re losing jobs
then you are much more alone.

Social media, the doctor said, is why teens are increasingly at risk. Cyberbullying and body image issues are causing many mental health disorders.

“People with less support and less coping skills tend to commit suicide more impulsively because they tend to think there is no way out,” he told WAVY.

So how do we protect those who are at risk? First, know the warning signs.

People who are considering suicide may talk about:

  • wanting to die
  • being a burden

They can feel:

They can also act differently:

  • More use of alcohol or drugs
  • donating things
  • Make a will or say goodbye to friends
  • anxious/nervous
  • sleep a lot or not at all

“We can actually prevent a lot of what is happening emotionally to people if we come together as a community,” said Crutchfield,

If you’re worried about what you notice, she recommends starting a conversation with the person like this: “Hey, I noticed you’ve been very absent-minded lately, I’ve really missed seeing you. Is there something going on that you want to share with me?

If you know a loved one is depressed, Dr. Spiegel recommends writing a crisis intervention plan that they can carry in their phone or wallet.

Must include:

1) Suicide warning signs
2) Emergency numbers: Including 988 for the National Suicide and Crisis Line,
3) What not to do: alcohol and drugs,
4) What to do: Lock guns and pills.

“So this way it makes it a little bit harder for someone who suddenly, on impulse, wants to get hurt,” Spiegel said.

That’s often what it takes to save a life and put a person, like Crutchfield, on the road to recovery. “It’s amazing that you can have power as a human being and not even know it.”

Support, Spiegel emphasized, is the most important deterrent to suicide. Having a good counselor or doctor is helpful, but so are group therapy and 12-step programs for those struggling with substance abuse.

Each town in Hampton Roads has a Community Services board that can help if you are uninsured or underinsured.

Many providers and support groups will also be available in various Hiking in Out Of Darkness communities on the Southside and Peninsula starting this Saturday, September 9th at Mt. Trashmore in Virginia Beach.

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