Know the Signs

This is the third in a series of posts for Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. You can read part 2 of the series here.

When I was a little kid, I was obsessed with videos about severe storms. I listened carefully as people shared their stories about what they saw and heard in the moments before a storm hit. A few people were caught unaware, but most people recounted that they saw dark clouds on the horizon, noticed that the winds picked up or died down quickly, or even saw animals acting differently than usual. As these were the days before I could view weather radar on demand, I kept these signs in mind as I played and worked outside, ready to take action at a moment’s notice.

In a similar way, knowing the warning signs of suicide can help us be better prepared to help a friend or family member if the need arises. There are some very evident signs:

  • talking about death or dying
  • expressing that they have no hope for the future or feel helpless
  • making plans to die or researching ways to die

There are some more subtle signs that a person is considering suicide or at risk:

  • changes in behavior, such as sleeping much more or less than usual
  • withdrawing from everyday life activities, including spending time with friends or family
  • engaging in risky behaviors, such as excessive drugs/alcohol use, driving too fast, or getting in fights

Then there are signs we might not immediately recognize:

  • giving away prized possessions
  • an extreme change in mood, going from down or depressed to seemingly happy or at peace

Being aware of warning signs of suicide increases the likelihood that you will be able to notice if something is changing with a friend or family member and that you will be able to take appropriate action to help. If you notice any of these signs in a friend or family member, don’t be afraid to start a discussion about what you’ve noticed. You are not putting an idea in their head by asking a question. In fact, you may be offering them a chance to share their feelings and express a need for help.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, dial 911 and request immediate help. You can also call or text 988 and speak to a trained professional about your concerns. They will be able to provide assistance and connect you with appropriate resources.

Dinner Theater is a Success

Ohio State Extension – Ashtabula County hosted a successful dinner theater on April 11, which brought together community members to promote awareness and education about mental health. Guests were treated to a delicious dinner from a local barbeque restaurant and then enjoyed a performance that focused on the ways farm stress can impact our mental health. The performers used humor and empathy to convey important messages such as recognizing signs of changing mental health, breaking down stigma and encouraging attendees to seek help when needed. Afterwards, representatives from local mental health agencies spoke about the resources available to residents of Ashtabula County.

The event was well-attended. Attendees were impressed by the performances and the engaging nature of the event, and were glad for the opportunity to learn more about mental health in a fun and non-judgmental environment.

Andrew Holden, Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Educator, spoke about the importance of the dinner theater: “Often times we get together for an event like this after a tragedy has already happened, and I am just glad we can do this in order to hopefully prevent it.”

A special thanks to the Ohio Farm Bureau, Farm Credit, and Centerra Co-op for their support of this event. Thank you to the 4-H and FFA members who offered child care.

Five adults stand in front of a crowd and hold microphones and a script in their hands. They are performing a skit about mental health. Four adults sit at a table and hold microphones and a script in their hands. They are performing a skit about mental health.

Register Today for Mental Health First Aid!

Do you know how to recognize signs of changing mental health in your friends or family members? Would you feel comfortable asking someone about their mental health? Join the Farm Stress team in a Mental Health First Aid class to learn about mental health and how to help in a crisis situation.

These virtual trainings are held on Zoom. You will receive access to self-paced learning modules approximately two weeks before the training, and then join some of OSU Extension’s Mental Health First Aid instructors for an instructor-led session.

Register for an adult Mental Health First Aid class here

Register for a Youth Mental Health First Aid course here (This class is designed for adults who work with young people ages 12-18).

Want to share this information with others? Click here for a copy of our registration flyer!

Suicide Prevention Month: Using destigmatizing language

Words can pack a punch. Choosing nice words to give a compliment can brighten someone’s day, while negative words can incite anger or sadness.

The same is true when we discuss suicide. Many words that we have used to discuss suicide in the recent past are stigmatizing, meaning they can add a sense of blame or shame towards people who have attempted or died by suicide. This can make it difficult to talk about suicide, and it is important to talk about suicide! Over the last several years, there has been a push to change the language around suicide so we can discuss the topic without adding to the stigma.

Phrases to change, limit, or avoid:

  • “Committed suicide”- have you noticed that we use phrases like “commit a sin” or “commit a crime?” While it might not be our intention, saying a person committed suicide can imply that they did something selfish or sinful and cast blame.
  • “Successful suicide”- we often use the word success when we’re talking about something that is positive, such as successfully meeting a goal or running a successful business. There is nothing positive about suicide.

Phrases to use instead:

  • “died by suicide”- this phrase does not add any shame or blame, but simply and clearly explains what happened.
  • “completed suicide”- this phrase is also a way to simply and clearly state what happened.

Changing the words you use to talk about suicide might be difficult at first. You might accidentally slip up and use stigmatizing language instead of non-stigmatizing words. Simply correct yourself and practice using the new words. It might take a few tries to feel comfortable switching out the words you use, but it will go a long way in helping break down some of the stigma that surrounds suicide.

(If you or a loved one are experiencing a suicide crisis or other mental health crisis, call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by simply dialing 988. You can also text HELP to 741741 to reach the Crisis Textline. If you or a loved one are experiencing a mental health emergency or substance use emergency, dial 911.)


September is Suicide Prevention Month

Every year, the month of September is set aside for us to raise awareness for suicide prevention and to remember those we have lost. This month can be difficult for many of us to navigate, but it is also an opportunity for us to offer HOPE to someone in need.

It is important during this time to remember the resources that are available to us. The Suicide Lifeline has a new, easy-to remember number (simply dial 988) and has expanded to offer support to individuals experiencing any type of mental health crisis. If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or mental health crises, 988 is the number to call! A trained professional will walk with you during the crisis and can connect you with additional resources in your community.

While it is great to have resources like 988 and other local hotline numbers (which you can find under the Get Help Now! tab of this page), studies overwhelmingly show that prevention and early intervention are far more impactful than crisis intervention. This means it is crucial that we become familiar with warning signs of suicide.

Here is a list of common warning signs that a person may be considering suicide. It is important to note that many of the changes in behaviors or emotions will likely happen over a period of four or more weeks.

  • Avoiding friends or family
  • Confused thinking or struggling to concentrate
  • Expressing excessive sadness or worry
  • Overuse of substances such as drugs or alcohol
  • Thinking or talking about suicide
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Aggressive or passive behavior out of character to them
  • Withdrawal
  • Changes in appetite

You can find more information on potential signs here.

Together as a community, we can come together to support friends, family, and even strangers that may be struggling. There are classes to help educate at the very basic level to help spot warning signs and symptoms, and how to support before a crisis happens. Mental Health First Aid is a great program that OSU Extension offers for FREE right now, both in-person and virtually. Register here