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Looking for Suicide Risk Signs

broken EXIT sign laying in a pile of rubble
June 6, 2019

The news that fashion designer Kate Spade took her life sent shockwaves through the wor6d. The world was stunned to know that she had been suffering from severe depression when she presented a happy image. Even more heartbreaking, her older sister, Reta Saffo, said they’d get close to getting Kate treatment, but “in the end, the ‘image’ of her brand (happy-go-lucky Kate Spade) was more important for her to keep up. She was definitely worried about what people would say if they found out.”

So how do you help those you love? How do you really know when someone is at risk for suicide? For Kate Spade’s family, it’s obvious they recognized the signs and tried their hardest to get her help. 

We reached out to Amy Wahl of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, who shares three key risk factors to look out for:

1. Talk
If someone is talking point-blank about taking their life, even if you think they’re joking, you always want to take it seriously. Even if someone says it a number of times, every time they mention it, you want to take it seriously. They might talk about having no reason to live or being a burden to other people. Those are all things you want to really listen to and lean into. 

2. Behavior
Suicide doesn’t always happen because of depression. It could be a significant change, loss, or painful event that is a trigger. If someone is engaging in risky behavior, spontaneous types of things, or acting out of character. There are a lot of things to look out for, but at the end of the day you want to trust your gut if you feel like somebody is acting out of character for them.

Also, assume you’re the only one who is going to reach out. Sometimes, people will talk amongst themselves and say, “So-and-so doesn’t seem like themselves,” but they don’t take the opportunity to reach out to that person individually. It makes a huge difference to go to that person and say, “Hey, something seems off. Could we talk?” Even if someone’s not in crisis, it lets them know that you care. People just want to be heard. 

3. Mood
When it comes to mood, does the person you love seem more irritable, depressed, anxious, or angry? Are they displaying shame or humiliation over something? Or have they been depressed and suddenly they seem fine? These are a few mood triggers to look out for. 

If you recognize any of these risk factors in a loved one gently reach out to them. It may feel awkward to talk about, but when it comes from a place of genuine love and care and is expressed that way, it can make all the difference. If you’re someone who is recognizing that you may need some help, please don’t feel shame for asking for help. Do not worry what people will do if they find out. YOU are what matters most. 

If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

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