DHS is committed to the well-being of all employees and their family members. This commitment includes engaging the DHS workforce in the important work of suicide prevention. Suicide prevention is a national public health concern, and everyone has a role to play.
Suicide awareness is the first step toward suicide prevention. Learning about suicide and becoming actively involved in reducing the stigma around talking about this subject can help save lives.
Myths about suicide can prevent those in a position to help from reaching out to those who might be having thoughts of suicide or self-harm. Here are some common myths about suicide.
Myth: Talking with someone about suicide or asking someone if they feel suicidal will cause them to attempt or commit suicide.
Truth: The stigma around suicide prevents many of us from talking about it directly. By asking someone directly about suicide, you are giving them permission to tell you how they are feeling. Someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts may be relieved to have the opportunity to share their feelings with someone who can help them get past this crisis, and who can provide them with hope and help.
Myth: People who talk about suicide won’t really do it – they just want attention.
Truth: Almost everyone who attempts suicide has said something to someone close to them about their intentions. Take any reference to suicide, dying, or self-harm seriously. Statements like “I wish I hadn’t been born,” “If I see you again,” or “I’d be better off dead,” no matter how casually or jokingly said—may be a sign of serious suicidal thoughts.
Myth: Once someone decides to commit suicide, nothing can be done to stop them.
Truth: Most people who die by suicide, or who attempt suicide don’t want to die, but want an end to their pain. A suicidal crisis is temporary, and the impulse to end one’s life does not last forever. Intervention with someone who is expressing thoughts of ending their own life can make a difference and can help them get past the crisis.
Myth: Only a trained professional can be of any help to a suicidal person.
Truth: Suicide is often the combination of three experiences: unbearable emotional pain, hopelessness and helplessness. Often, a person considering suicide will respond well to sharing their pain, being offered hope, and made to feel like there is help. Emotional support and encouragement does not require professional expertise.
A combination of situations could lead someone to consider suicide The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified the following risk factors to keep in mind if you are concerned about a friend, family member, or colleague. Risk factors increase the possibility of suicide, but they might not be direct causes.
- Financial problems
- Job problems or loss
- Social isolation
- Previous suicide attempt
- Legal problems
- Serious illness
- Mental health symptoms such as anxiety or depression
- Substance misuse
- Relationship problems such as a break-up, divorce or loss
- Adverse childhood experiences such as child abuse and neglect
- Family history of suicide
- Being involved in unhealthy relationships that involve abuse or violence
- Stigma associated with seeking help for mental health problems or when having difficulty coping with a major life change such as a divorce, break-up or diagnosis of a serious illness.
- Easy access to lethal means among people at risk (e.g. firearms, medications)
- Unsafe media portrayals of suicide
- Suicide cluster in the community
People who are suicidal often leave subtle signs for those around them. These warning signs are indirect ways of letting those around them know that they are suffering and looking for a way out.
Learning about the warning signs can help you be more suicide aware and combined with knowing how to help someone in crisis, can help you know what to do if someone you care about needs help. Keep in mind that these warning signs might just indicate that someone you care about is having a difficult time and might just need someone to talk to. These warning signs don’t automatically mean that someone is at imminent risk for suicide.
The National Institute of Mental Health has identified the below behaviors that might indicate that someone is thinking about suicide.
- Great guilt or shame
- Being a burden to others
- Wanting to die
- Empty, hopeless, trapped, or having no reason to live
- Extremely sad, more anxious, agitated, or full of rage
- Unbearable emotional or physical pain
Significant change in behavior, such as:
- Significant change in eating or sleeping habits
- Using drugs or alcohol more often
- Withdrawing from friends, saying good-bye, giving away important items, or making a will
- Taking dangerous risks such as driving extremely fast
- Displaying extreme mood swings
- Making a plan or researching ways to die
If these warning signs apply to you or someone you know, get help as soon as possible, particularly if the behavior is new or has increased recently. Even if the person isn’t considering suicide, these warning signs apply to anyone who is having a hard time, needs someone to talk to, and possibly help from a peer support member, chaplain, member of clergy, or even a mental health professional.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Crisis Text Line
Text “HELLO” to 741741
Stigma is the sense of fear, shame, or negative perception about mental health issues, symptoms, or treatment. It can lead to isolation and pose a barrier to accessing help. Open and honest conversations about difficult subjects is the only way to help those who might be suffering in silence. When we avoid difficult subjects such as suicide, depression, or other mental health challenges, it makes it harder for those who are struggling to get help.
Reducing the stigma associated with suicidal feelings and mental health challenges begins by approaching conversations with our loved ones, friends and colleagues in a non-judgmental and caring way. Showing acceptance and understanding goes a long way to providing support and helps to normalize experiences and reactions of a psychological nature.
Preventing suicide begins with open conversations without fear or shame. How we talk about suicide matters. Here are some simple ways you can help reduce stigma around mental health problems, or seeking help for difficult life challenges:
- Be open and non-judgmental in conversations about mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety.
- When talking about suicide or suicidal be direct – ask “are you thinking about suicide” versus “are you thinking about hurting yourself.”
- Become mental health aware – educate yourself about how common mental health conditions are in the United States and familiarize yourself with the resources that are available to help those who need help coping with mental health symptoms such as anxiety or depression.
- Know that seeking help for a mental health condition, or for support while dealing with a difficult situation in and of itself will not affect your security clearance. In fact, seeking help through the EAP or through a mental health professional demonstrates that you are aware that you need help and taking this step is considered favorably.
- Know that there are effective treatments for mental conditions and that with help, people recover. Take time to familiarize yourself with resources, such as the Employee Assistance Program, that can help those in need.
The Columbia Lighthouse Project has developed a simple tool called the Columbia Protocol. Any time you find yourself concerned about the emotional well-being of a family member, friend, neighbor, or coworker you can use this simple tool to guide you as you reach out to offer your support.
The Columbia Protocol helps you ask the right questions and provides a simple way to assess someone’s risk of suicide. It only takes a few minutes to ask these important questions, and you don’t need any mental health training to be of help to someone in crisis.
This tool consists of six simple questions that you will help you:
- Identify whether someone is at risk for suicide
- Understand how severe and immediate that risk is, and
- Know how to support the person who you are concerned about based on their responses.
The Columbia Protocol is available as a mobile application on Google Play or the iPhone App store.
Here are a few videos that show how to use the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale.
Stepping Up and Leaning In
Action can save lives. Suicidal thoughts or intentions are potentially dangerous and require immediate action. If you believe someone you encounter is at immediate risk of suicide, we encourage you to take the following steps:
A – Ask – ask the person: are you thinking of killing yourself? Although it may feel awkward, research shows that people having thoughts of suicide feel relief when someone asks them in a caring way.
C – Care – show the person you care.
- Listen in a compassionate manner without judging.
- Follow-up after the crisis period to let the person know they are not alone.
- Help the individual stay connected to their social network of strong, positive relationships.
E – Escort – do not leave the individual alone! If possible, remove or disable any potential method of harm.
Help the person connect to a health professional and take the person to the nearest emergency room, call 911, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) and follow their guidance.
If you are worried about yourself or someone you love,
call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at
(Press 1 if you are a Veteran, Service member, or family member).
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a free resource that’s available to anyone. Alternately, text TALK to 741741
to text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free, 24/7.