How to Help a Suicidal Patient

how to help a suicidal patient

How to Help a Suicidal Patient

In 2009, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death for Americans. The Centers for Disease Control estimated that during that year 1 million people attempted suicide and 37,000 passed away from it. The saddest part? Suicide is preventable. The catch? Not all that are suffering will ask for help. It’s the duty of friends, family, loved ones, and medical professionals to intervene before it’s too late. However, medical providers should pay extra attention to the possible signs of a suicidal individual because 45% of those who commit suicide were seen by a primary care provider within a month of their act.

Signs of Suicidal Risk

People handle things differently. Although depressed individuals carry a high risk for suicide, not all depressed people act the same. However, there are some risk factors that you should be on the look out for such as:

  • Family history of mental disorder or substance abuse
  • Suicide in family history
  • Violence at home
  • Victim of sexual/physical abuse
  • Being around other suicidal behavior
  • Spending time in jail
  • Owning guns

There’s also some habits that indicate a person could be contemplating taking their own life such as:

  • Clinical depression (which comes along with sadness, disinterest, sleep/eating issues)
  • Having no interest in things they used to love
  • Talking about being worthless, helpless, etc.
  • Abrupt mood swings (going from being extremely sad to really happy or calm)
  • Seeming to get “things in order” like adjusting a will or giving away valuables
  • Engaging in risky behaviors like driving irresponsibly
  • Talking about killing themselves
  • Saying goodbye or visiting people to say goodbye
  • Previously attempting suicide (between 20-50% of people who commit suicide have had a previous attempt, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention)

How medical professionals should handle a potentially suicidal patient:

Not all patients are going to be depressed or suicidal, but every visit should start with a brief assessment anyway. An informal greeting accompanied by casual questions like “do you have anything that’s been worrying you?” or “how’s your mood been?” could have a profound ability to let you know if further examination is required. From there you can ask them about what’s wrong or how they handle their problems. A lot of people who have a thought about suicide don’t ever carry it out. However, there’s absolutely no room to risk the chance that someone might decide to take their own life.

If a patient acknowledges that your suspicions of suicidal thoughts are right, then you should find out more.

Things you should say to patients at risk:

  • Ask them to share their thoughts
  • Ask what they’ve been doing
  • Ask why they haven’t carried out their plan
  • Find out if they have a gun in their home
  • Ask if they have ever harmed or tried to kill themselves
  • Ask if they have told anyone else about their thoughts
  • Ask what they do when they feel sad

Actions you should take when you have a patient at risk:

  • Call their therapist (if they have one) with the patient present
  • Contact a professional in the mental health specialty
  • Ask the patient permission to speak to a close family member or friend with the patient present
  • Help patient make a therapy appointment if they don’t appear to be an immediate risk
  • Call 911 if the case is dire or you believe the patient needs an emergency psychiatric


In an emergency, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Author: Locum Jobs Online

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