Saving Our Loved Ones from Suicide Through Vigilance

by Mettie Spiess 

It is a common myth that suicide rates increase during the holiday season when in fact, nationally the rates decrease in the months of November and December. That said, let’s be honest, holidays are not always happy. Grieving loved ones, forced gatherings and financial woes can be the perfect recipe for holiday stress, depression and suicidal thoughts.

The best way to minimize the risk of suicide is to know the risk factors, recognize the warning signs and know how to respond to them. Above all, preventing suicide requires vigilance.

Eighty percent of those who die by suicide exhibit at least one warning sign in the weeks prior to their death. Knowing these warning signs is the first step to saving a life. Anyone who expresses suicidal thoughts or intentions verbally, online or through text message should be taken seriously.


Risk factors:

  • Personal or family history of substance abuse and/or mental illness
  • Loss of a major relationship
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Chronic physical illness, including chronic pain
  • Fear of loss of freedom or punishment
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness


Warning signs (Behavioral):

  • Erratic behavior including irritability, agitation or unusual aggression
  • Excessive or misdirected feelings of self-hatred, guilt or burden
  • Self isolation and withdrawing from interests
  • Putting personal affairs in order and/or giving away prized processions


Warning signs (verbal or written):

  • “I just want out.”
  • “My friends and family would be better off without me.”
  • “I’m going to end it all.”
  • “If (such and such) doesn’t happen, I’ll kill myself.”


When someone exhibits these signs it is easy to brush them off or assume the person is just looking for attention. Do not make this assumption. So, how should you respond?


Step 1: Ask questions to encourage the person to open up.

Examples: “Do you ever wish you could just go to sleep and never wake up?”

“Are you considering suicide?”

“Do you have a plan to harm yourself?”


Step 2: Persuade the person to get help. Persuasion is most effective when you persist that suicide is not a good solution and suggest better solutions, honor their struggle by saying, “Yes, this situation is difficult but not hopeless,” and avoid platitudes.


Step 3: Refer the person to get help. The best referral always involves taking the person directly to the source of help (i.e.: driving them to a doctor’s appointment).

If someone you care about is not interested in getting help, do not give up on them! Suicidal individuals often believe they cannot be helped so you may need to repeat these steps several times before the person is willing to receive help. If you believe your loved one is in immediate danger or they make a threat against themselves call the sheriff’s department at 920.746.2400 or 911 immediately.

It is a common belief that there is nothing that can be done if someone wants to end their life by suicide. I fully, heartedly disagree. The reality is, suicide is not chosen, it is what happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain.

Luckily, there are several resources to help anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts and for individuals who are concerned about a loved one. The Little Eddie Big Cup committee along with Operation Reach Out, LLC will release a free mental wellness smartphone app for all Door County residents. The app provides compelling videos and specific information regarding how to safely intervene with loved ones who are suicidal and provides a personalized help center and activities for those who are depressed to stay connected with others. The app will be released in early 2017. For more information visit OpReachOut.Com.

It is the responsibility of each us to remain vigilant and empower our voices to ask tough questions of those who we are concerned about and to speak up when we, ourselves, need help.


The National Suicide Crisis Hotline is 800.273.TALK (8255). The local crisis/suicide intervention hotline is 920.746.2588.


Mettie Spiess is an award-winning mental health advocate, professional speaker, and the executive director of Operation Reach Out. Her mission is to empower individuals with skills to rise above adversity, crush mental illness stigma and prevent suicide. To bring a training program, lasting change and hope to your school or organization please visit

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