Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD
Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
In this Article
- Suicide facts
- What is suicide?
- What are the effects of suicide?
- What are some possible causes of suicide?
- What are the risk factors and protective factors for suicide?
- What are the signs and symptoms for suicidal behavior?
- How are suicidal thoughts and behaviors assessed?
- What is the treatment for suicidal thoughts and behaviors?
- How can people cope with suicidal thoughts?
- How can people cope with the suicide of a loved one?
- Where can people get help?
What are the signs and symptoms for suicidal behavior?
Warning signs that an individual is imminently planning to kill themselves may include the person making a will, otherwise getting his or her affairs in order, suddenly visiting friends or family members (one last time), buying instruments of suicide like a gun, hose, rope, pills, or other forms of medications, a sudden and significant decline or improvement in mood, or writing a suicide note. Contrary to popular belief, many people who complete suicide do not tell their therapist or any other mental-health professional they plan to kill themselves in the months before they do so. If they communicate their plan to anyone, it is more likely to be someone with whom they are personally close, like a friend or family member.
Individuals who take their lives tend to suffer from severe anxiety or depression, symptoms of which may include moderate alcohol abuse, insomnia, severe agitation, loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy (anhedonia), hopelessness, and persistent thoughts about the possibility of something bad happening. Since suicidal behaviors are often quite impulsive, removing guns, medications, knives, and other instruments people often use to kill themselves from the immediate environment can allow the individual time to think more clearly and perhaps choose a more rational way of coping with their pain.
How are suicidal thoughts and behaviors assessed?
The risk assessment for suicidal thoughts and behaviors performed by mental-health professionals often involves an evaluation of the presence, severity, and duration of suicidal feelings in the individuals they treat as part of a comprehensive evaluation of the person's mental health. Therefore, in addition to asking questions about family mental-health history and about the symptoms of a variety of emotional problems (for example, anxiety, depression, mood swings, bizarre thoughts, substance abuse, eating disorders, and any history of being traumatized), practitioners frequently ask the people they evaluate about any past or present suicidal thoughts, dreams, intent, and plans. If the individual has ever attempted suicide, information about the circumstances surrounding the attempt, as well as the level of dangerousness of the method and the outcome of the attempt, may be explored. Any other history of violent behavior might be evaluated. The person's current circumstances, like recent stressors (for example, end of a relationship, family problems), sources of support, and accessibility of weapons are often probed. What treatment the person may be receiving and how he or she has responded to treatment recently and in the past, are other issues mental-health professionals tend to explore during an evaluation.
Sometimes professionals assess suicide risk by using an assessment scale. One such scale is called the SAD PERSONS Scale, which identifies risk factors for suicide as follows:
- Sex (male)
- Age younger than 19 or older than 45 years of age
- Depression (severe enough to be considered clinically significant)
- Previous suicide attempt or received mental-health services of any kind
- Excessive alcohol or other drug use
- Rational thinking lost
- Separated, divorced, or widowed (or other ending of significant relationship)
- Organized suicide plan or serious attempt
- No or little social support
- Sickness or chronic medical illness
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