Suicide is a topic that frequently comes up in our discussions with responders and military personnel who have experienced a disaster or traumatic event. Chances are, you may know or have read about a fellow responder or soldier who has attempted or committed suicide. Approximately 15% of people with severe clinical depression commit suicide (source: Wellness Council of America). Overall, suicide is the ninth leading cause of death in the United States.

In general, first responders are at risk of suicide because of the distressing nature of their jobs. Law enforcement and military personnel may be at risk because they have access to lethal weapons and are frequently involved in high danger situations. However, people who experience any of the following are also at an increased risk of suicide:

Suicide Risk Factors
  1. A traumatic event such as 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, or war.
  2. Severe depression.
  3. A life-changing stressor (e.g., loss of job, relationship).
  4. Death of a loved one, especially if by suicide.
  5. Previous suicide attempts.
  6. Exhibiting rage, anger and severe irritability.
  7. Using drugs or alcohol in excess.

Sometimes, a large-scale disaster or traumatic event can cause people to become depressed and even consider suicide. As people in need of assistance may not ask for help, it is important to recognize suicidal warning signs and know what to do if a coworker or family member needs help. Look for the following suicide risk signals (source: American Association of Suicidology):

Signs that someone may be at risk for suicide
  • Increase in use of drugs or alcohol.
  • Isolation and withdrawal.
  • Change in mood, especially an increase in anger/irritability.
  • Feeling hopeless and depressed.
  • Increase in impulsive and risk-taking behaviors.
  • Rigid thinking, believing there are no solutions and nothing will help (or feeling trapped).

If you or someone you know shows signs of suicidal behavior, it is important to find help. Seeking assistance from a professional counselor is the best way to help someone in need.

Sometimes a situation may occur where someone you know is intent on harming his or her self in the immediate future. Here are some warning signs that signal someone may be preparing to commit suicide soon.

Imminent Suicide Warning Signs
  • Talking about death.
  • Making threats about suicide or statements about death and dying.
  • Making a plan for how to attempt suicide.
  • Obtaining materials, tools, weapons necessary to attempt suicide.
  • Making plans or arrangements for death (e.g., changing will, saying goodbye, etc).
  • Giving away belongings.

If someone you know is at risk of imminent suicide, you can still help. Here are some tips on what to do.

What to do in a crisis

FIND HELP IMMEDIATELY: Take the person to a local Emergency Room, a local community mental health agency, a family physician or a crisis center. If the person is in treatment, have him/her contact their mental heath care provider immediately.

If the crisis is acute, call 9-1-1 immediately or a suicide prevention hotline such as 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433).

CLOSELY MONITOR THE PERSON: Do not leave the person alone. Stay with him or her until help arrives.

REMOVE MEANS OF SUICIDE: Remove any objects or items that the person can use to harm his or her self, such as guns, knives, weapons or pills.

If you or someone you know shows signs of suicidal behavior, it is important to find help. Seeking assistance from a professional counselor is the best way to help someone in need.