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FAA WorkLife Wisdom: What Leads to Suicidal Thinking?

Continuing the health observance of suicide prevention, this week we’ll look at some of the primary factors that can lead to suicidal thinking, and what you can do if a friend or loved one is at risk.

Suicidal thinking isn’t just a stress response. Suicide typically does not happen in response to a single adverse event or trauma. While external stressors such as relationship problems, financial or legal crises, and even bullying abuse can contribute, it’s the internal factors—how a person’s emotions are impacted—that often make self-destructive thinking possible.

Untreated depression is the most prevalent risk factor. Suicide is usually the end result of a battle with depression. The risk of suicide is more than 50 percent higher in people who are depressed. Severe depression can distort thinking and interfere with an individual’s ability to solve complex problems. Other risk factors include having a family history of suicide, being a victim of abuse, having firearms in the home and being exposed to suicidal behavior of others.

Suicidal ideation isn’t a weakness or character flaw. Suicidal thoughts are symptoms of a treatable illness – depression – influenced by an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin. A person cannot just “snap out of” depression and thoughts of suicide.

Spotting the warning signs of potential suicide is crucial. Suicide is most likely to occur when someone’s symptoms of depression are misunderstood or ignored by others.

People are at the most acute risk of suicide when exhibiting the following behaviors:

o   Talking about or threatening to hurt or kill themselves

o   Looking for ways to end life by seeking access to firearms, powerful medications or other dangerous means

o   Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide when these actions are out of the ordinary. Making statements such as, “There’s nothing left to live for.”

Other common signs of suicide risk include:

o   Withdrawing and becoming isolated from family and friends

o   Giving away prized possessions

o   Engaging in risk-taking behavior

o   Exhibiting stark personality changes (e.g., aggression, moodiness) or large emotional swings

o   Displaying anxiety or agitation

o   Sleeping too much or too little

o   Appearing very depressed, expressing hopelessness

o   Saying that they don’t want to be a burden on others

o   Increasing substance use

o   Having attempted suicide in the past

o   Losing interest or pleasure in their regular activities; expressing a lack of interest in the future.

Take action if someone seems suicidal. If you recognize a number of the symptoms above in a friend or loved one, contact a mental health provider, physician, or suicide/crisis hotline for advice and help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK [8255] is an excellent resource. Too many people die from suicide when their problems could effectively be addressed by first recognizing depression, then getting treatment including therapy and/or medication. You can find a provider in your area through your FAA WorkLife Solutions Program.

Accessible 24/7, your FAA WorkLife Solutions Program offers many resources and services to help you and your family. Options available through the program include concierge services to help with everyday events needing your time and attention, child and elder care options, legal and financial services, in-person counseling, and much more. Call your program at 1-800-234-1327, TTY Users: 1-800-456-4006, or log on to www.MagellanHealth.com/Member to begin accessing these services today.

Sources: American Association of Suicidology, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, National Institute of Mental Health.

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