It can be frightening if someone you love talks about suicidal thoughts. It can be even more frightening if you find yourself thinking about dying or giving up on life. Not taking these kinds of thoughts seriously can have devastating outcomes, as suicide is a permanent solution to (often) temporary problems.

September is Suicide Prevention Month, and provides an opportunity to openly discuss this pressing health emergency.

According to research from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), suicide rates have increased by 30 percent since 1999. Comments or thoughts about suicide (also known as suicidal ideation) can begin small like, “I wish I wasn’t here.” But over time, they can become more explicit and dangerous.

“Like any other health emergency, it’s important to address a mental health crisis quickly and effectively,” said Sheri Dawson, director of the Division of Behavioral Health. “Suicidal thoughts are a symptom of a mental health crisis. By reducing the stigma that surrounds suicide and mental health, we can achieve a cultural shift where it is okay to discuss thoughts of suicide and reach out for help.”

According to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 46 percent of people who die by suicide had a known mental health condition.

In addition to mental health conditions, other suicide risk factors include:

A family history of suicide
Substance abuse. Drugs can create mental highs and lows that worsen suicidal thoughts.
Intoxication. More than 1 in 3 people who die from suicide are under the influence of alcohol at the time of death.
Access to firearms
A serious or chronic medical illness
Gender. Although more women than men attempt suicide, men are nearly four times more likely to die by suicide.
A history of trauma or abuse
Prolonged stress
A recent tragedy or loss

Warning signs of suicide include:  

Increased alcohol and drug use
Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself
Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
Aggressive and/or anxious behavior
Sleeping too little or too much
Withdrawal from friends, family and community
Dramatic mood swings
Impulsive or reckless behavior

Suicidal behaviors are a psychiatric emergency. If you or a loved one starts to take any of these steps, seek immediate help from a health care provider or call 911:

Discussing potential methods of suicide
Giving away possessions
Tying up loose ends, like organizing personal papers
Saying goodbye to friends and family
When a suicide-related crisis occurs, friends and family are often caught off-guard, unprepared and unsure of what to do.

Strategies for action include:

Talking openly and honestly. Don't be afraid to ask questions like: "Are you thinking of killing yourself?"
Removing means such as guns, knives, ropes or stockpiled pills
Practicing active listening techniques such as reflecting their feelings and summarizing their thoughts. This can help your loved one feel heard and validated.
Expressing support and concern
Avoiding arguing, threatening or raising your voice
Being patient, kind and compassionate
If your friend or family member struggles with suicidal ideation day-to-day, let them know that they can talk with you about what they’re going through.
Let them know that mental health professionals are trained to help people understand their feelings and teach coping skills.