Save a Loved One: Learn to Look for Suicidal Signs

By Stephanie Breault, MSN, NP-C, Firelands Physician Group Clyde Urgent Care

September brings beautiful fall leaves, cooler weather and football season, and many of us look forward to this time of year. Me? Not so much. This September will be a little different for me and my fellow coworkers – it will be the one-year anniversary of losing our colleague, physician assistant Eric Abood. Eric passed away last year from suicide.

It was almost catastrophic for us as a group because there were so many questions left unanswered. How did he hide these feelings from us? Why did he not get more help, after all, he was a MEDICAL PROVIDER? Did we miss the suicidal signs? What could I have done to prevent this?

It’s so hard to understand how someone in the medical field did not reach out for help. Suicide doesn’t discriminate: it’s a problem that can affect a person regardless of income, career, where they live, or how successful they are. Eric was proof of this. He was a successful man who had lived an amazing life which included working with professional sports teams and providing care to players of both soccer and hockey teams.Stephanie wishes she would've seen suicidal signs in her friend.Stephanie Breault

Looking back, I can’t see any stereotypical “suicidal signs” in Eric. I know now that people who are feeling suicidal may not come across as “depressed” to others. Eric seemed anxious at times, but never exhibited the suicidal signs we think of when we imagine a depressed person; he didn’t mope around. Eric always made sure to act like he was strong. Regardless if it was lifting a heavy box, or when he went through a breakup – for the latter, he appeared as anyone does when they end a long-term relationship but it seemed appropriate to the situation. He had started to see a therapist on a weekly basis for his anxiety. From what we could see, he was getting help for his breakup and anxiety.

Suicide of a friend or family member is a very difficult thing to work through because there are often never the answers to all of the questions that linger.  As a nurse practitioner, I’m constantly trying to figure out the “why” behind anything that happens – health-related or not. I couldn’t figure out the why behind Eric’s death, and the most frustrating part is that I never will, and neither will his loving family.

Why am I sharing this? I want those reading to understand that people who are feeling suicidal and thinking about ending their life may not show many of the typical "suicidal signs" we often think of. They may keep up an appearance they’re doing okay even when they’re not. If this is you, I want you to know that it’s okay to ask for help. It doesn’t mean you failed if you need help. Please talk with someone if you are having thoughts about hurting yourself whether you're showing suicidal signs or not; there is help out there.  

Eric was an amazing physician’s assistant and person. He was my mentor then quickly became like family to many of us in our little Urgent Care office in Clyde. He was always willing to help anyone out. He was dedicated to his patients, friends, and family.  I miss him every day, as does his many loved ones. For the rest of our lives, we will wish he would have reached out and let us know he was feeling suicidal before it was too late.

My hope is that I can help prevent even just one person from losing their loved one to suicide, so they never have to experience the pain that I – along with Eric’s family and friends – have felt over the past year.

First, Identify Suicidal Signs

  • Direct or indirect statements about dying or hurting oneself. Almost everyone who attempts suicide has given some clue or warning to someone. Don’t ignore even indirect references to death or suicide.
  • Seeking help for mental health. Studies of suicide victims have shown that more than half had sought medical help in the six months prior to their deaths.
  • Seeking out things that can be used to harm oneself. Examples include weapons or drugs.
  • Hopelessness. People who feel hopeless may talk about "unbearable" feelings, predict a bleak future, and state that they have nothing to look forward to.
  • Dramatic mood swings or sudden personality changes, such as going from outgoing to withdrawn or well-behaved to rebellious.
  • Self-loathing, self-hatred.  Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, shame, and self-hatred. Feeling like a burden ("Everyone would be better off without me").
  • Getting affairs in order, such as making out a will, giving away prized possessions, and making arrangements for family members.
  • Saying goodbye. Look for unusual or unexpected visits or calls to family and friends, or saying goodbye to people as if they won't be seen again.
  • Withdrawing from others. Withdrawing from friends and family. Increasing social isolation. Desire to be left alone.
  • Sudden sense of calm. A sudden sense of calm and happiness after being extremely depressed can mean that the person has made a decision to attempt suicide.

Next, Start a Conversation

Some people believe the myth that talking about suicide may give someone the idea to commit suicide, so they think it’s safer to never address it. In fact, the opposite is true. Bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly is one of the most helpful things you can do. Since having such a delicate conversation can be intimidating and make you want to avoid it, here are some ideas for initiating the conversation:

Say:

  • "I’ve been feeling concerned about you lately."
  • "Recently, I’ve noticed some differences in you and wondered how you are doing."
  • "I wanted to check in with you because you haven’t seemed like yourself lately."
  • "When did you first start feeling like this?"
  • "Did something happen that made you start feeling this way?"
  • "How can I best support you right now?"
  • "Have you thought about getting help?"
  • "You are not alone in this. I’m here for you."
  • "You may not believe it now, but the way you’re feeling will change."
  • "I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help."
  • "When you want to give up, tell yourself you will hold off for just one more day, hour, minute—whatever you can manage."

Firelands Counseling & Recovery Services is a wonderful resource for those dealing with mental health issues and suicidal thoughts. If a suicide attempt by your loved one seems imminent, call the crisis hotline (800-826-1306), call 911, or take your loved one to the nearest emergency room.

Anyone experiencing a mental health or chemical addiction crisis may access Firelands Counseling and Recovery Services through the Crisis Hotline at 1-800-826-1306, or by calling any of the Firelands Outpatient Behavioral Health offices.