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Recognizing the signs of suicidal behavior

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people ages 10 to 34 years old.

Depression and anxiety are silent mental disorders, and when they are not treated, there can be lethal outcomes.

Andra Hansen is a communication professor at BYU-Idaho and a suicide prevention advocate who has an enormous passion for helping people who struggle with suicidal thoughts.

She is the instructor of Question, Persuade and Refer training on BYU-I’s campus, where she teaches people to recognize the warning signs people with suicidal thoughts show before committing suicide, how to help them and how to contact professionals for help.


During the training, Hansen covers three indicators of how to recognize when somebody has suicidal thoughts.

1. Verbal cues

People with suicidal thoughts might give verbal cues about an attempt to end their life.

“Somebody might say, ‘I wish I could go to sleep and not wake up’ or ‘I’m not going to be here much longer,'” Hansen said.

2. Behavioral cues

Hansen explained that other people might give behavioral cues, such as acquiring a gun, giving away precious possessions and putting personal affairs in order.

Some people, before committing suicide, show gratitude to others in a way that sounds like they are saying goodbye.

3. Emotional changes

Another sign is emotional irregularities, like a sudden change from being sad to being happy.

“People would say, ‘I don’t have to solve this problem because I won’t be here anymore,'” Hansen said.

They would act happier because they do not have to worry about their problems anymore.

Hansen explained the importance of being attentive when someone experiences loss. Losing freedom, possessions, loved ones or their own health creates dangerous situations that could quickly escalate to suicide.

Hansen explained that people who suffer from suicidal thoughts are really struggling to know how to manage risk factors.

“Some of the risk factors become so great that the pain, isolation and feeling of not being lovable become so overwhelming; it starts to look like the only way out of this dark tunnel is not to be here,” Hansen said.

On the bright side, Hansen explained that most people who have made a suicidal attempt do not really want to die.

“It’s not like people want to die; it’s just they don’t know what to do with what lies before them,” Hansen said.

QPR training is designed to teach people how to help friends or family members with suicidal struggles, so they can ask for professional help and find the light at the end of the dark tunnel.

“When I’m using QPR skills, they are similar to CPR,” Hansen said. “I am using these skills because someone is having a life-threatening crisis, and my skills can bridge the gap from crisis to more qualified help.”

How to help

Hansen explained that to help someone who is having suicidal thoughts, one must ask about suicide directly, without judgment.

Hansen explained that most people do not like looking weak or feeling like they are a burden in front of others. This is why one must never judge those who don’t have apparent struggles.

“You want to ask in a way that doesn’t make them feel weird for having had the thoughts, and they will be more likely to tell you the truth,” Hansen said.

After you have asked the question, never jump into counseling mode.

Hansen suggested that the best way to listen to a person who is struggling with suicidal thoughts is by affirming what they are saying and never diving deeper into their problems.

“Pain never produces hope,” Hansen said.

After affirming a few times, you can help the person start recognizing the good things about their own life and turn the conversation into a more hopeful setting.

“You can say, ‘It looks like you still have some people to love; maybe it’s worth it to be alive for now,'” Hansen said.

Hansen encourages people to understand that they are a friend and not a counselor.

“You can’t save people by yourself,” Hansen said. “Never let yourself become isolated as a caretaker. Build a team.”

The Behavioral Health Crisis Center in Idaho Falls is open every day of the year, 24 hours a day, to help people struggling with suicidal thoughts.

For more information about the suicide prevention hotline and other resources, click here.


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