I teach a men’s Sunday School class and recently I approached one of our class members who appeared angry and sad as the result of recent financial and marital issues. Several times he said that he no longer felt like living and I was not sure how to determine if he was seriously considering taking his life, or if he was just making some exaggerated statements.
You are correct in having some concern over this man’s statements. Out of the 815,000 suicides world wide each year, men commit suicide four times as often as women, with middle-aged Caucasian males having the highest incidence of all. It is thought that men have higher suicide rates because men generally have more risky health behaviors, they tend to use more lethal methods when attempting suicide, and they are less likely than women to seek professional help. They will, however, often talk with a friend or family member and it is important for that person to take seriously any suicidal language.
How serious the risk of suicide is can be assessed by asking how often the thought comes up and if the person ever thinks about how they would commit suicide. The more specific the plan is, the more serious the threat is. Does the person have a prior history of depression? Sometimes when they are starting to feel better they have more energy for the suicide attempt. Have they made suicide attempts in the past? The American Association of Suicidology (www.suicidology.org) suggests the following mnemonic device to remember the warning signs of suicide – IS PATH WARM: Expressed Ideation; increased Substance abuse; no sense of Purpose in life; Anxiety, agitation or difficulty sleeping; feeling Trapped and Hopeless; Withdrawing from friends; rage, Anger, or seeking revenge; acting Reckless or engaging in risky activities; and dramatic Mood changes.
If you assess that this man might be at risk, make a contract with him to call you if he is feeling suicidal and encourage him to seek out a professional counselor. If you feel that the risk is imminent, take him to the emergency room, or call 911. You may be the only person to whom he has reached out for help.
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