Identifying warning signs for suicide

A person who may be thinking about suicide likely does not want to die but is in search of some way to make pain or suffering go away. Older people who attempt suicide are often more isolated, more likely to have a plan, and more determined than younger adults. Suicide attempts are more likely to end in death for older adults than younger adults, especially when attempted by men. But suicide is 100 percent preventable.

Use the checklist to determine if you or someone you know may be showing warning signs of suicidal thoughts.

Risk factors and warning signs

Suicidal thoughts in older adults may be linked to several important risk factors and warning signs. These include, among others:

  • Depression
  • Prior suicide attempts
  • Marked feelings of hopelessness; lack of interest in the future
  • Feelings of loss of independence or sense of purpose
  • Medical conditions that significantly limit functioning or life expectancy
  • Impulsivity due to cognitive impairment
  • Social isolation
  • Family discord or losses (i.e. recent death of a loved one)
  • Inflexible personality or marked difficulty adapting to change
  • Access to lethal means (i.e. firearms, other weapons, etc)
  • Daring or risk-taking behavior
  • Sudden personality changes
  • Alcohol or medication misuse or abuse
  • Verbal suicide threats such as, “You’d be better off without me” or “Maybe I won’t be around.”
  • Giving away prized possessions

Preventing suicide

It is crucial that friends and family of older adults identify signs of suicidal thoughts and take appropriate follow-up actions to prevent them from acting on these thoughts. Suicidal thoughts are often a symptom of depression and should always be taken seriously.

Passive suicidal thoughts include thoughts of being “better off dead.” They are not necessarily associated with increased risk for suicide but are a sign of significant distress and should be addressed immediately.

In contrast, active suicidal thoughts include thoughts of acting toward hurting or killing oneself. An example of an active suicidal thought would be answering yes to the question: In the last two weeks, have you had any thoughts of hurting or killing yourself? These thoughts require immediate clinical assessment and intervention by a mental health professional.

If someone you know has a suicide plan with intent to act, you should not leave them alone – make sure to stay with them until emergency services are in place.

Key takeaway

If you or someone you know is experiencing passive or active suicidal thoughts, or has described a plan with intent to act, it is essential that you intervene and get help from a mental health professional immediately. A timely and appropriate intervention can prevent suicide and addressing issues sooner rather than later often results in better treatment outcomes.

 We would like to thank Wellness and Care Coordinator Nicole Hartog and Program Manager James Kuemmerle with the Senior Reach program at Community Reach Center for these insights during Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. During this month, and all year long, it is important for people suffering from mental health conditions and their loved ones to know that mental illness is treatable, and there is no shame in seeking assistance.

Remember that our Behavioral Health Urgent Care (BHUC) center, 2551 W. 84th Ave., in Westminster is open 24 hours. And to learn more about Community Reach Center, a nonprofit mental health center with numerous outpatient offices in Adams County, visit www.communityreachcenter.org or call 303-853-3500. If you have any questions about where to turn for help for older adults, please reach out to the Senior Reach team at Community Reach Center at 303-853-3657. Community Reach Center provides leading Denver mental health centers to visit. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area of Adams County, including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.

Acronyms align to mental health

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month is as good a time as any to consider acronyms and mnemonic devices.

Seems like there are acronyms everywhere. Some are playful and can be plugged in as needed. For example, FOMO (fear of missing out) and the opposite JOMO (joy of missing out) provides a choice. The question might be whether to binge watch past seasons of a show to catch up with work mates or instead focus on learning a foreign language. Or maybe, you choose to really, really test yourself with something that is a big-time commitment. That would be YOLO (you only live once).

Along with the fun acronyms are the ones that are important tools. For example, the mnemonic ABC (airway, compression, breathing) is key memory device to help people remember how to respond in medical emergencies. Having these mnemonic guides ingrained is key to remembering the important steps in CPR during stressful situations. Another common acronym, used in first aid response, is STOP (stop, talk, observe, prevent (further injury)).

Community Reach Center provides a Mental Health First Aid course at Community Reach Center. The free 8-hour course teaches signs and symptoms of mental health illnesses and delivers an action plan called ALGEE. Moreover, it also includes a section about how to talk about suicide ideation and how to talk to someone who may be experiencing thoughts of suicide.

Down to the letters

The action plan mnemonic for Mental Health First Aid is ALGEE. Briefly, it amounts to:

  • Assess for risk of suicide or harm
  • Listen nonjudgmentally
  • Give reassurance and information
  • Encourage appropriate professional help
  • Encourage self-help and other support strategies

The fine points of these actions cannot be adequately covered in the space of a blog, so it’s best to visit the Community Reach Center website and sign up for a free 8-hour course.

The Mental Health First Aid course was developed in Australia, and it turns out there is another good program originating from Australia that advocates prevention of suicide, which is R U OK? day. This annual day filled with youth and general community activities is Thursday, Sept. 12. The mnemonic for R U OK?, like ALGEE, also aids in providing assistance person to person.

The R U OK? mnemonic is ALEC:

  • (Ask R U OK?)
  • Listen
  • Encourage action
  • Check-in

A quick search online and you can find more details about R U OK? and ALEC in connection with prevention of suicide.

Take time to learn more

Please have a look at ALGEE and ALEC and STOP and others. Remember, these types of mnemonic devices are helpful reminders of specific interventions that may be hard to draw upon in the heat of a crisis or even just day-to-day stressors.

Consider taking a day to take a Mental Health First Aid course. Please sign up at the Community Reach Center website. And please takes some time this month to visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website for good overview of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

At Community Reach Center, a leading metro Denver area mental health clinic, we are always prepared to help. Visit communityreachcenter.org or call us at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday for more information about services. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area of Adams County including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.